Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guest blogger: Ralph Keyes

We at Fine Print are very excited to occasionally share contributions by local authors. We have asked them to share their thoughts about their favorite book, something they've read recently, or the role reading has played in their lives. Today's offering is from Ralph Keyes, whose books have included Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, I love it when you talk retro : hoochie coochie, double whammy, drop a dime, and the forgotten origins of American speech, and The post-truth era : dishonesty and deception in contemporary life, among others.

Some years ago I read A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley.  This had been recommended to me by a number of other writers, and with good reason.  Exley’s “fictional memoir” was a searing account of his life on and off his living room couch, trying to get his life on track.  The candor with which he wrote invited empathy.  Exley’s portrayal of his fraught relationship with his father was especially compelling.  This father had been a renowned high school athlete in the New York town where the author grew up.  Exley himself, a mediocre athlete, could not match his father’s renown.  In one riveting scene the two compete against each other in a father-son basketball game at the high school where Exley Sr. had once been a star.  His son has to guard him.  He crushes his 13-year-old boy mercilessly.  Afterward, as they walk home, the father rests his arm on his son’s shoulder and tries clumsily to apologize.  The son represses his urge to “sob uncontrollably, and to shout at him my humiliation and my loathing.  ‘Oh, Jesus, Pop!  Why?  Why?  Why?’”  As a memoir-writing man Exley wishes he’d done so.  Instead he just seethed and wished his father – soon to die of cancer – was already dead.  “Among unnumbered sins,” the author concludes, “from that damning wish I seek absolution.” 

A Fan’s Notes gained such a following because it portrayed one man’s struggle to get a grip with such candor.  Reading about Frederick Exley’s struggle made other men feel better about their own.  It did so for me.  As an aspiring writer I found that his honest, well-written memoir gave me courage to write with greater candor myself.  Today I appreciate more than ever the author’s integrity in calling his book a fictional memoir.  During a time in which so many memoirists have been revealed as fabulists who passed their fantasies off as the truth, Exley’s honesty shines even brighter.

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