Fred Exley's 1968 book, A Fan's Notes, has the unfortunate status of being one of those books that you can go your whole life and never read. This book, Exley's first, was his best, and although it stirred up the literary world when it was released, it has been more overlooked in the wake of Exley's disappointing follow-ups, his personal problems, and his death in 1992. Exley went from being a talented young writer to being an ex-writer. When when he was good, man oh man, he was good. The guy could write.
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