It's really nothing like its predecessor, "A Fan's Notes." But it does appear as a half-fiction, half memoir of Exley's own life and his quirky encounters and reveries about such people as Edmund Wilson, Gloria Steinem and Norman Mailer. The final chapter about his days as a literature teacher in Iowa are quite funny. Profane, bawdy, but highly literate. If you know Exley, you need to find this and read it.
Exley's Under-Rated Gem
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 13 years ago
I came to Pages from a Cold Island as a long-standing fan of Exley's A Fans Notes, and given the sometimes dismissive reviews of this book, frankly i did'nt expect much. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I first read A Fans Notes way back in the 70's, and it was, at that time, my favorite American novel. Recently, to see how it stood up over time and a much more critical reading, I reread it and found it as engaging and thought provoking as I remember it. it is truly a classic. As such, i decided to read Pages From A Cold Island, which has, over the years, come to be dismissed as an interesting side note but not much else, which is surprising as it was generally greeted upon publication with positive reviews. Jonathan Yardley, Exley's biographer, dismisses both this and Exley's third and last novel, Last Notes From Home, as footnotes to A Fan's Notes. I think the brilliance of A Fans Notes obscures what would otherwise be considered a very good - not great - work. I found it engaging in the same ways A Fan's notes is; tightly structured, thoughtfully written, humorous and thought-provoking. The thematic device of structuring the book around Edmund Wilson's life and death works in much the same way Frank Gifford's life works in A Fans Notes - Exley is ultimately writing about himself whether he discusses Gifford or Wilson, and what we learn about Exley in this second volume of his autobiographical trilogy is as entertaining and insightful as anything else he's written. Maybe Exley could have pared it down just a little - the last third of the book, which deals with Wilson's death, at times lags, but really not in such a sustained way that it distracts from the essential interest of the book. Exley strikes me as a thinking man's hunter S Thompson - a more accomplished writer, a more subtle thinker, an acute humor leavened with wisdom. So, if You're a fan of Exley's A Fans Notes, jump right into this. It's a worthy follow-up to a classic, and Exley not quite at his best is still better than 95% of anything else out there.
A worthy follow-up to a quirky classic
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 15 years ago
It was only a few months ago that I even first heard about Frederick Exley, and his wonderful novel A FAN'S NOTES. After breezing through that novel, enjoying every extravagance of language, plumbing the depths of Exley's experience in bars, insane asylums, and the Polo Grounds, I was more than a little curious about his other two novels. PAGES FROM A COLD ISLAND is a strong, mature, worthy follow-up to A FAN'S NOTES. I've numerous reviews claiming otherwise, but as one reader, I found COLD ISLAND picked up where NOTES left off, artistically, as well as chronologically. If anything, I found COLD ISLAND more balanced, giving more of a historical context of the story, as Exley relates his experience interviewing Gloria Steinem, and comments on the Vietnam war. At times NOTES seemed to hover nowhere in time, whereas COLD ISLAND is more firmly rooted into contemporary America. Overall, Exley's verbosity and sense of humor are every bit as incisive and affecting as in NOTES. Exley does go off on tangents that were probably only of interest to him. The sections on Edmund Wilson were interesting, but far too long, too detailed, and offered far too little pay-off. But on the whole, COLD ISLAND measures up to NOTES quite well, if not surpassing it in certain respects. Exley's name-dropping and experience as a noted, if not bestselling, author are of particular interest, bringing his search for fame in NOTES full circle, and finding that he remained an outsider; Earl Exley's son hunched at the bar watching football. --Matthew St. Amand www.matthewstamand.com
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