Frederick Exley’s classic 1968 account of his epic alcoholism, A Fan’s Notes, bears the oxymoronic subtitle ”A Fictional Memoir.” It is the space between those words, between real and fabricated memory, that Clarke examines in his flawed but forceful new novel, Exley. Miller is a precocious 9-year-old who lives in a cloud of self-delusion, especially when it comes to his dad, an acolyte of A Fan’s Notes who may or may not be in a coma at the VA hospital. The boy goes on a search for the inconveniently dead Exley, a mission that is ultimately less about finding the truth than avoiding it. With humor as black as Exley’s liver, Clarke picks apart the fictions we tell one another — and those we tell ourselves. B+
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