Exley: A Novel
“As far as I’d known up until that point, the most important thing about reading a book was to say you’d finished it faster than anyone thought you could. But I did not want to finish this book. Some of the books I’d read had told me that love is fleeting; some of the other books I’d read had told me that love is eternal. But they were wrong . . . Love is not wanting the thing you love to ever end. I was in love with A Fan’s Notes, just like my dad was. And I was in love with my dad, just like I was in love with A Fan’s Notes. I wanted both of them to last forever.”
For young Miller Le Ray, life has become a search. A search for his dad, who may or may not have joined the army and gone to Iraq. A search for a semifamous but notoriously obnoxious (and, unfortunately, deceased) writer, Frederick Exley, author of the “fictional memoir” A Fan’s Notes, who may hold the key to bringing Miller’s father back. But most of all, his is a search for truth. As Miller says, “Sometimes you have to tell the truth about some of the stuff you’ve done so that people will believe you when you tell them the truth about other stuff you haven’t done.”
For Miller’s therapist, Dr. Pahnee, this young patient is an increasing conundrum, a dedicated truth-teller who hasn’t a clue as to the difference between fact and fiction. Hired by Miller’s very concerned—and extremely attractive—mother, Dr. Pahnee soon finds himself becoming undone, in part by his effort to understand what has really happened to the Le Ray family and in part by his increasing feelings of affection for this woman, who may or may not be a widow.
In Exley, as in his previous bestselling novel, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, Brock Clarke takes his reader into a world that is both familiar and disorienting, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining. Told in the alternating voices of Miller and Dr. Pahnee, both unreliable narrators, it becomes an exploration of the differences between what we believe to be real and what is in fact real. Part literary satire, part mystery, Exley is further proof that in Brock Clarke, a writer whom critics have compared variously to Richard Ford and John Irving, American literature has a major new voice.