Laura Lemay's Reviews > Exley

Exley by Brock Clarke
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Dec 14, 2011

it was ok

Socially awkward nine-year-old Miller's parents have split up. It the man dying in the VA hospital down the street actually his father, come back from the war in Iraq? Miller's obsession with his father sends his on a quest for Frederick Exley, who wrote his father's favourite book ("A Fan's Notes," which is a real book). Miller has a fantasy that if he can find Exley, he can cure his father and bring his family back together again. Interspersed with Miller's story is that of his psychiatrist, Dr Pahnee, who is...well, insane, and who becomes more and more unhinged over the course of the book.

This is normally the sort of book that I love, a metafictional puzzle with unreliable narrators where it is hard to tell who is telling the truth or what the truth actually is. But I found Miller unbelievable as a nine-year-old, and Dr Phanee's antics just annoying. Miller's mother -- who is central to the plot -- was so thinly drawn that she wasn't really even there. And the ending, although it does resolve the is-he-or-isn't-he question, did not ring emotionally true to me.

I liked Brocke Clarke's previous book, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England (still the best title for a novel EVER), although I found it very uneven. The good parts were very very good, though, and I thought at the time, well, maybe it's just this book, and his next novel will be awesome. I really admire Clarke for his reach -- the *concept* of this book is terrific. Sadly the execution did not work for me.
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