14 February 2011
Book Banter -- Exley
Author: Brock Clarke
Genre: literary fiction
Length: 303 pages
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Miller Le Ray's father went to Iraq. Or so the nine-year old thinks that's what happened after his parents split up and is convinced his father is now in the VA hospital of Watertown, NY. Miller knows his dad's favorite book is Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes and he becomes convinced that if he can find Exley, he can cure his dad. Helped (and sometimes hindered) in his quest by his therapist who has an insatiable crush on Exley's mom, the story moves defiantly through what is true and what isn't.
Banter Points: The books is clevely laid out with chapters going back and forth between Miller and his therapist's notes. Through this dual-storytelling, the reader builds a picture of when Miller is lying and when the therapist is misinterpreting events. Amazingly, both prove to be unreliable narrators and that's part of the story's genius -- it's unknown until the very end what actual truth is.
Bummer Points: Exley wasn't sharply funny the way Clarke's first novel -- Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England -- was. At first while reading Exley, I was sort of disappointed because it wasn't what I was expecting from Clarke.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Clarke's second novel is worth reading, but don't think it's going to be a repeat of Arsonists. It's a clever exploration of truth and fiction and the lies we tell ourselves as people.