This fictional memoir, the first of an autobiographical trilogy, traces a self professed failure's nightmarish decent into the underside of American life and his resurrection to the wisdom that emerges from despair.
A Fan's Notes is savagely funny and honest, delightfully written, and shockingly blunt in its dissection of mainstream American values. The book is what one might call these days "memoir," although in 1968 such a genre wasn't quite clearly recognized, and so people didn't know if the Fred Exley in the book was the "real" Fred Exley who wrote the book. Not that we should care about such trifles as the facts when compelling literature is at stake.
Suffice it to say that Notes is Exley's chilling, charming telling of his alcoholism, his loves and successes and losses, his madness, and his obsession with "winners and losers" in life, among other things. A parade of grotesques move through this book, representations of men and women who all reflect and refract sets of values that Exley flirts with but ultimately cannot engage with. Rather than play the game of the American Dream, he prefers to remain, for the most part, on the outside, taking notes.
Even if Exley wrote only one book his whole life, he should have been happy with A Fan's Notes. Anyone who relishes concise, intelligent, entertaining literature should take notes on Notes. It's truly an amazing book, very personal and very memorable. Another quick Amazon pick I'd like to recommend is The Losers Club by Richard Perez
Exley is my long lost father's contemporary. I cried through the first twenty pages because I thought I was listening to my father think and talk.
Like Exley, my father was not afraid of words and elaborate phrasing. He shared Exley's almost ridiculously extensive vocabulary, using words one would only encounter leafing through a dictionary. He spoke in convoluted phrases that sounded more like written language than speech. My father was a drinker and a caustic critic of conformity. He shared Exley's rejection of everything and Exley's sudden bursts of sentimentality. My father did not want to be a "success," he did not want to be "the family man," he did not want to be the "professional man" he did not want to be anything but a living, slightly drunk refusal of middle class American life. Better self-destruction than compromise in an ugly world. Like Exley, he was not the greatest husband or father. He was too busy trashing his life with his relentless nihilism.
My father was also manic depressive, or as they say today, bipolar. As far as I can tell, Exley is too.
In many ways this book reads as the memoir of a man struck by mental illness. Manic depressives have rapid flights of speech, often using elaborate phrasing and a wide range of words. In manic phases they are known to move from place to place, city to city (Chicago, Colorado, Florida).Read more ›