cover image Exley


Brock Clarke, Algonquin, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-56512-608-4

Clarke follows up his acclaimed An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England with a less gripping exploration of truth and fiction, set in Watertown, N.Y., during the Iraq war. Miller, a precocious nine-year-old eighth grader, is convinced that when his parents split up, his father joined the army, was shipped to Iraq, and is now recovering from combat injuries in a VA hospital. The father-son dynamic has roots in, strangely enough, Frederick Exley's cult book, A Fan's Notes, which Miller's father is obsessed with, leading Miller to fantasize that, if he can locate Exley, his father will be cured. Miller's story is augmented by the notes of his therapist, whose professionalism is first compromised by his attraction to Miller's mother and soon by his amazingly unethical (and sometimes morbidly funny) antics—breaking into Miller's house, playing along to a perverse degree with Miller's interest in locating Exley—that eventually obliterate the already tenuous line between reality and imagination. Clarke's a deft satirist, but the narrative's structural intricacies are more confounding than anything, resulting in a work that's fitfully engaging but slow, wonderfully mysterious but increasingly confusing. (Oct.)