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  • Posted January 9, 2011



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  • Posted December 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Dead Story Named After A Dead Author

    Reading Exley was an exercise in frustration. There were few moments when i could say that I liked what I was reading. I felt like a hamster on a wheel as the boy kept repeating his behavior. The character of the therapist was just weird- really. Lusting after the kid's mother, breaking into their home- none of this interested me. I cannot recommend this book to anyone who has better things to do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2010

    Homage or Mystery or Both?

    You may not find yourself immediately hooked into the outrageous premise of "Exley," if you've forgotten the almost universal praise that greeted Frederick Exley's 1968 fictionalized memoir "A Fan's Notes". But the work was beloved by critics and readers alike and seemed the introduction to a major American writer. Here, over thirty years later, Brock Clarke has fashioned an intriguing story of a teenager from "Note's" Watertown whose main connection to his abandoned father is Exley's book. Reality keeps shifting, and keeps the reader on his toes, before a satisfying ending draws together the threads. There are probably a few too many ways that the teenager could have confirmed Exley's condition in today's easy access to information, but part of the joy in reading "Exley" is watching the ways Brock Clarke digs out his wildly dysfunctional family (and their equally dysfunctional therapist) from their lies and fantasies. And if it leads you to reread "A Fan's Notes," so much the better. Recommended.

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  • Posted October 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    It's all in your head, little boy!

    After you finish reading Exley, by Brock Clarke, you may need to take a few moments to catch your breath. You may not sleep well, and that's certainly not because of anything horrific or scary in the book. This book, quite simply, messes with your mind.

    First, the characters are wildly created and completely unpredictable. It starts with Miller, or M-, who is a child prodigy on a quest to find his father who left the family suddenly and without explanation. He's a weird little kid, but likable, and you can't help but feel sympathy for him as he misses his dad. The only explanation he can find is that his father must have left for Iraq (they live in an army base town), and this explanation doesn't sit well with his mother. She arranges for him to meet with a psychiatrist to discuss Miller's 'wild imagination'. Miller and the doctor form a tentative relationship, with Miller's explanations sounding more reasonable than anyone else's.

    The key to all of this, to separate it from any number of books about dysfunctional families, is Exley. Frederick Exley, is the author of A Fan's Notes, the favorite book of Miller's father. His father's so tied to Exley's books that when he gets a phone call on 9/11 to tell him to turn on the television, he can't be bothered. He's too busy re-reading the book. The book becomes Miller's only connection to his dad. He carries on his father's obsession and turns to Exley (or at least anything even remotely related to Exley or his writing) to bring him back. With book in hand, he searches all over Watertown to find a connection and an explanation. In between searching, he teaches his father's English class at the Junior College, meets a mysterious young woman who may have known his father, and visits the VA hospital searching for clues. This is one busy kid.

    The psychiatrist, Dr. Pahnee, isn't exactly the appropriate choice for a mental health professional for Miller. This makes him perfect in terms of the book. Because while Dr. Pahnee utters the traditional psychobabble, he's also not above prowling Miller's house when no one's home, and following him around to verify if any of Miller's claims could possibly be true (both of them on bikes). He's not above hitting on Miller's mother, and as several of the chapters are written as his patient notes, we see just how far out of the range of normal he is. He is given to uttering repetitive phrases-repetitive and, indeed, annoying. (Just like that sentence!) Quirky doesn't even begin to describe him.

    Clarke writes the characters in a brisk way that creates instant visuals: he describes the father "like a bear with hurt feelings." The mother is an uptight lawyer whose emotions are best deciphered by the position of her hands on her hips, and who is so rigid that her business suits are assigned a certain day to be worn. Everyone else that Miller meets fits the same non-mold, and the effect is dizzying. Despite the craziness, there is a genuine thread of humanity that aims to understand how much (or how little) of what we want to believe relates to what actually is true. It also toys with the idea of imagination as a therapeutic process, a means to adjust to and possibly accept changing circumstances.

    The book reminded me a bit of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which has a child protagonist on a similar journey. Yet Clarke's novel has a more satisfying ending, and doesn't fold up quite as neatly.

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