Early in A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley describes his memories of taking the long journey with his father from Upstate New York to the Manhattan hotel whereupon they sought out New York Giants coach, Steve Owen. Their mission was to propose the idea of Owens’s Giants playing and exhibition game against the semi-professional team Exley’s father managed. Exley’s father was a bit of a local football legend upstate and for young Freddie, aged eight at the time of this remembrance, an absolute god. When they finally confront Owen, Owen very quickly, but gently dismissed the idea. They ride home defeated. Exley writes:
…”my father’s shadow was so imposing that I had scarcely ever, until that moment, had any identity of my own….Steve Owen not only gave me an identity; he proved to me my father was vulnerable.”
Hearing Frederick Exley describe his love for the New York Football Giants in A Fan’s Notes is a lot like hearing Charles Manson describe his love for the Beatles. Someone’s gonna get hurt here.
In as much as Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch presents the sports fan as an affable, well meaning bundle of neurosis, Exley’s picture is far grimmer. Whereas Hornby’s obsession isolates him on Saturdays and at worst, hurts the feelings of a friend or two, Exley’s obsession with the Giants is perhaps all that keeps him on planet Earth. The rest of the time, there are ruined relationships, abandoned children, sporadic stays at institutions and alcohol…lots and lots of alcohol.
This book is strongly autobiographical which brings an extra wince as Exley unfolds his past and his foils. Each new phase of adulthood brings a new inability to fit into conventional America. All the while this stumbling journey is contrasted against his love for the iconic football team he loves and moreover, its supreme hero Frank Gifford.
Much of the story is placed in upstate New York, that other New York that doesn’t belong to the world but poignantly belongs only to those who’ve lived there.
A Fan’s Notes is a study in survival. Exley makes no excuses when he is unable to find his fit in the world. His inability to maintain relationships and find contentment in…anything, he blames only himself and attributes his lack of equilibrium to an essentially random and uncaring universe.
The despair felt in this story is balanced with immeasurably eloquent writing. Although Exley seems not to love life, he does demonstrate an incredible love of language. This is not an easy read and should only be attempted in a quiet room with a dictionary on your lap.
This book scares the crap out of me. As eloquent as Exley is, he seems to so easily be drawn into the abyss. 'What's keeping me in line?' I'm left to wonder. For a long time I harbored my own unhealthy love for the New York Mets. This love seemed to have been deepest at a time where I read no books, never would visit a museum and rarely had anything between my ears that could be considered an original thought. I lived a life devoid of ideas. Eventually, I changed and things occupied my life and the Mets vacated. My sports neurosis was there because nothing else was.
A Fan’s Notes is available from Vintage Contemporaries. I got this as a gift from my brother.