Misfit by Jonathan Yardley
: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley

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Frederick Exley was at once unique and prototypical. He inhabited his own bizarre universe and obeyed no rules except his own, yet he was a familiar and characteristic American literary type: an author whose reputation rests on a single book. His life, which he described, and disguised, and distorted in all three of his books, rivaled his "fiction.  Everything he did involved a struggle, and the most important struggle of his life was his writing; out of that strife came A Fan's Notes, which Jonathan Yardley believes is one of the best books of our time.

Exley was an alcoholic who drank in copious amounts, yet he always sobered up when he was ready to write. In his younger days he did time in a couple of mental institutions, which imposed involuntary discipline on him and helped him start to write. He was personally and financially irresponsible--he had no credit cards, no permanent address, and ambiguous relationships with everyone he knew--yet people loved him and took care of him.

The center of Fred's strange world was Watertown in upstate New York, where he was born and grew up. Other important points of his compass included various places in Florida and Hawaii, and a funky bar in New York's Greenwich Village called the Lion's Head. No matter where he was, in the dark of night he phoned friends and subjected them to interminable monologues. To many, these were a nuisance and an imposition, but later, in the light of day, they were remembered with affection and gratitude.

In Misfit, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic of The Washington Post portrays in full one of the most tormented, distinctive, and talented writers of the postwar years. Exley's story, which in Yardley's telling reads as if it were a novel, reveals a singular personality: raunchy, vulgar, self-centered, and even infantile, yet also loyal, self-deprecating, and unfailingly humorous. Sympathetic and affectionate, honest and unsparing, Yardley's portrait gives us a man who sacrificed everything in order to write and who becomes, even more than before, his own most memorable creation.  

About Jonathan Yardley

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Jonathan Yardley is the book critic and a columnist for The Washington Post. He is the author of four previous books, including Ring: A Biography of Ring Lardner and Our Kind of People: The Story of an American Family, and the editor of My Life as Author and Editor by H. L. Mencken. In 1968-69 he held a Nieman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard University, and in 1981 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. He lives in Baltimore and Cecil County, Maryland, with his wife, Susan Hartt Yardley.
Published August 5, 1997 by Random House. 255 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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A Fan's Notes apart, the biographic trail is scant in the early years, but Yardley connects Exley's departure from mainstream life not only to his father's early death and his failed romance as an adolescent with a WASP debutante, but also to a car accident that ended his own mediocre football ca...

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Publishers Weekly

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Frederick Exley (1929-1992) struggled to publish three books in his mostly drink-sodden life, notably a fictionalized memoir with a football voyeur as its narrator, A Fan's Notes.

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Entertainment Weekly

Frederick Exley's novel/memoir A Fan's Noteswas one of the seminal books of the '60s, as trenchant and funny on the theme of celebrity worship as any book ever written.

Aug 22 1997 | Read Full Review of Misfit:: The Strange Life of ...

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