Exley by Brock Clarke
Published by Algonquin, an imprint of Workman
When Miller’s dad leaves their family, he announces that he is going to join the war in Iraq, and Miller takes him at face value. Miller’s mother, on the other hand, is adamant that her husband could not possibly have gone to Iraq – after all he was too old, too out of shape, too lazy. When Miller continues to insist that his father is in Iraq and letters start showing up, ostensibly from his father, Miller’s mother put him into therapy. Miller’s doctor, who refers to him as M., is a bit pretentious but does seem to have M.’s best interests at heart – if only because he has a crush on M.’s mother. Everything comes to a head when Miller discovers that his father – or someone he assumes is his father – is lying unconscious in the Veteran’s Hospital. In order to return his father to health and to his own life, Miller decides that he must find Exley, whose fictional memoir, “A Fan’s Notes,” is the one thing Miller’s father is truly passionate about in life. He is certain that if he brings Exley to his father, his father will get well again.
Over the last weekend, I found myself in a bit of a reading funk. I had a hard time picking up or concentrating on anything, until I picked up “Exley.” As might be expected of an author whose first book is titled, “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England,” Brock Clarke has, with “Exley,” written a quirky and fascinating novel. The most immediate thing that captured my attention was the question of whether or not Miller’s father really went to Iraq and whether he was currently lying unconscious in a hospital bed. This brought up an even more intriguing question: if he had not been to Iraq, was Miller simply misinformed and confused, or is he an unreliable narrator? There is, of course, the issue of the man in the hospital, as well as some letters Miller’s mother intercepted, which she believes that Miller wrote and had someone post from an APO address.
This is an incredibly quirky book, with Miller expounding on things his father taught him, which his father learned from Exley, and calling people by their initials and speaking in imprecise dates as his father and Exley both do as well. Although not for the easily offended, Exley is an immensely enjoyable book which I can highly recommend.
Thanks to Beth Fish Reads, who has helped me to become more aware of the imprints I love over the past year, beginning with her Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge. Follow her blog for regular spotlights of some of her favorite imprints.
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