Frederick Exley Essay - Critical Essays

Exley, Frederick (Vol. 11)


Exley, Frederick 1930–

Exley is an American novelist. A Fan's Notes and Pages from a Cold Island are the first two books of his planned "fictional autobiographical trilogy." (See also CLC, Vol. 6.)

Derek Mahon

[A Fan's Notes is] a work of depth and seriousness—a moving, richly humorous record of humiliation and perseverance. Perhaps only in tightrope America, where to trip once is to die more than a little, can one immediately recognise loneliness as a metaphysical condition. This, almost, is what Exley does, with a bitterness, a wild obscenity and a slow undertow of unkillable love that recalls Céline. He is conscious of other American masters (Melville, Scott Fitzgerald), but he is 'literary' only in the sense that anyone who writes is literary now. Exley-the-narrator seeks love and fame; like Gatsby, he believes in the green light of American romanticism; and he finds ashes. Love is blonde Bunny Sue with her...

(The entire section is 255 words.)

Stanley Reynolds

As a work of art [A Fan's Notes] is rambling, unclear, repetitious, and written in that curious overblown American style exemplified by the now famous remark of the US Ambassador to the Queen about redecorating his house and 'encountering elements of discomfiture in the refurbishing'. The effect here is rather like getting button-holed by a drunk in a bar who grips you by both lapels, breathing whisky and polysyllables into your face, and never uses two words where he can possibly find 10 that'll do. Indeed, one American critic found this pompous, drunken prose pleasing, but then there is no available means of data-computing the elements of individual selectivity processes or, for that matter, no accounting for...

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Richard P. Brickner

[Exley leads a] trouble-seeking, trouble-rich existence [in Pages From a Cold Island]. He is always putting, indeed pushing, his foot in it. Everything with him is more than enough, or less than enough; there is no unqualified enough. But as he describes his embarrassing, often comic, occasionally joyful meetings with the strangers he drags or tickles out of the blue, as he tells of the intimacy with the strangers that seems to constitute most of the intimacy he knows, he reminds us that a large part of the trouble he discovers is trouble we, too, have had, and that much of the rest is trouble we haven't the nerve to seek. Most of us have adversity thrust upon us; Exley achieves it.

He makes...

(The entire section is 645 words.)


A Fan's Notes is both a funny and a sad book, exploring the American obsession with "making it." It contains some splendid writing, a host of memorable tales and character sketches, and, above all, a sense of a man who has lived and suffered. At times the book tends toward inflated prose and overdrawn scenes and sections (the chapter on "Mr. Blue," for example, is not important enough to warrant such space), and we do occasionally grow weary of the self-deprecating Exley persona, but as a whole, A Fan's Notes is an unmistakable achievement.

At one point in Pages from a Cold Island Exley tells us that some readers of his first book expressed doubts that he would produce anything...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

C. Barry Chabot

While Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes envisions a culture every bit as inhumane as we find elsewhere in contemporary fiction, his novel represents a significant turn. Exley's America may fail and brutalize him, but he comes to momentary recognitions of his own not insignificant failings. Simply, unlike his fellow protagonists, Exley in A Fan's Notes carries the burden of guilt; indeed, he at times equates remorse with the very conditions of humanity…. Exley cannot always sustain an awareness of his own complicity in the sufferings of this world and often is overwhelmed by his rage at a callously indifferent America. Nonetheless, the significance of Exley's fragmentary and tentative introspective...

(The entire section is 1542 words.)