This month, the TNB Book Club features Exley, the new novel by Brock Clarke, author of the critically acclaimed An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New EnglandExley is published by the fine people of Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill.  You can keep up with all of their great titles over at the official Algonquin blog.

Members of The Club who are working their way through Exley are encouraged to use the comment board below as an open discussion thread.  Talk about the book.  Talk about its characters.  Talk about the late-great Frederick Exley.




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THE TNB BOOK CLUB is the official book club of The Nervous Breakdown. For only $9.99 per month, members receive a new book in the mail each month, hand-picked by TNB editors. All book club authors will be featured on Other People with Brad Listi, a popular author interview podcast hosted by TNB's founding editor. To sign up for the club, please visit the Book Club page.

17 responses to “Exley, by Brock Clarke – Open Discussion Thread”

  1. Joe says:

    I’m still not so sure about this book. I’m finding this child narrator a lot less believable than the narrator from Room. I know he’s supposed to be an unreliable narrator, but his language skills seem unbelievable, even given his advanced reading skills. I’m also not impressed with the Psychiatrist. His notes feel inauthentic. I’m going go stick with it, but it’s been rough going for me. Anyone else having the same issues or am I alone here?

    • JulieK says:

      I agree. I had to go back to check his age a couple of times. I did find the book interesting for the most part, but I was annoyed with the blanks for dates and initials for names. I found the blanks for dates very distracting. I finished the book because I DID want to see how it turned out, but looking back now, it was partly to “get it over with”.

    • Gloria says:

      I see where you’re coming from, Joe. I’m only about 100 pages into the book, so I don’t know what the final pay off will be. Nonetheless, I have a strong, confident sense that there will be one. I can’t say why. I feel less like I’m being dragged toward the end and more like I’m riding there comfortably.

      Also, my perspective on the child narrator’s internal dialogue and language skills are pretty skewed by the fact that I have two 8 1/2 year old boys, both of whom have ridiculously high IQs and read at the high school level. One of my sons told me the other day that he thought a black hole “sounds like fire and ice colliding with reality.” When discussing religion with the other one recently, he informed me that out of all the gods in all the religions, he’d most like to pray to Athena “because love is [his] favorite thing.” I don’t know, I guess living with these two people allows me to suspend my disbelief quite a bit.

      Anyway, I just really think there will be a payoff. **crosses fingers**

  2. Gloria says:

    I’ve been dog-earing and underling my book as I go. There are some really great lines. I don’t like the therapist, but that isn’t because I don’t think he’s well written. I think he’s just slow to be developed. But even he has some great lines – like when he says something like kids would be easier to treat in therapy if you could remove their shoulders (because of their tendency to shrug rather than coming up with a verbal answer.) I’ve cracked up a time or two. This weekend, I’ll have my first opportunity to read this book in more than ten minute spurts since picking it up and I look forward to it.

  3. Jeffrey Pillow says:

    I’m only on about page 40 now but the narrator, in some ways, reminds me of Christopher Francis Boone, the narrator from Mark Haddon’s A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Maybe it’s the storyline that adds to this comparison: the disappearance/search for a parental figure, which may or may not still exist. The use of letters. The unreliability of the narrator and other figures. I guess I’ll soon find out how it all comes together and ends. I’m enjoying it.

  4. jonathan evison says:

    . .. it’s interesting to note that brock’s books are divisive . . . to wit, check out the amazon reviews for “an arsonist’s guide to writers homes in new england” – – 23 5 star reviews, 29 1 star reviews, and very little in between . . .

  5. Jim T says:

    I’ve finished the book.
    I found myself thinking that M’s language skills were quite impressive.

    I think his inner dialouge was a bit more effective in the way that he would think to himself “I know she wanted me to do/say this” and that would shape his actions/words. Those are the times I felt like he was a bit more believable as a 9 year old.

    I could not get behind the therapist at all. I found his character to lack integrity because of the ways he started bending the rules that he should be following while treating this patient. I can’t recall if they mention his age but I got the impression he is an older man and therefore would know better to some extent. I felt like he abandoned his position as doctor and picked up a persona to relate to M a bit quickly and irresponsibly
    In the end I felt like he had his reasons and it kind of redeemed him to me.

    That said I found the book very entertaining. I found myself dog earing pages and underlining a lot of sentences and various passages that I thought were amazing. I found myself laughing aloud at times and finished this thing in 2 days during the work week, so it kept my attention.

    I can say at least this. I’ve never heard of “A Fan’s Notes” but am going out to pick it up today.

  6. jonathan evison says:

    . . .yes, jim, pick up “a fan’s notes!” . . .it ought to be compulsory reading . . .

    • I’m a little scared to read this, as Fan’s Notes has long been one of my top-10 novels, and I’m leery of allowing anything to color that impression. But, I’m about to anyway. Maybe I’d feel better if it dealt with Pages From a Cold Island? I did read Arsonist’s Guide a while back and really liked the playing with language. Either way, just finished The Long Ships and need something else to stuff in the maw.

      • Dana says:

        I’d go for it Sean. I haven’t read A Fan’s Notes, but am definitely planning on doing so after reading Exley. Clarke has such an obvious affection for the book (and Exley) that it’ll probably just make you want to read it again.

        I’ve known enough precocious children that I didn’t find Miller’s voice that unusual or off-putting. I read highly inappropriate books when I was a kid and I think it really colored my views of the world and fueled my imagination.

        I liked the Doctor too. Of course he’s incredibly flawed and a terrible therapist, but it’s fiction. He had some great lines and his obsession cracked me up, fer chrissakes!
        I thoroughly enjoyed the book although I doubt it will stick with me as much as Room has.

        Notes regarding the TNB Book Club: 1.) The first two books in the book club are narrated by little boys leading me to believe someone did that on purpose and 2.) I’ve heard both of the authors interviewed on NPR within days of my finishing their books and that’s just plain cool.

  7. Meg Worden says:

    I haven’t received mine yet. Who should I call?? I want to be in on this!

  8. jonathan evison says:

    meg, send me your addy, and i’ll see to it you get one– would you rather have an advanced readers copy, or a hardback?

  9. jonathan evison says:

    . . . also, here’s an essay by brock clarke from the algonquin book blog on ‘a fan’s notes,’ and what it means to him:

  10. Gloria says:

    When does the online discussion with Brock Clarke take place? I want to get it scheduled in. I also want to finish the book (I was very sick for a week and am just only feeling human enough to read. Or exist.)

    • admin says:

      99% sure the meeting/discussion will be happening on October 27th, in the evening. More official details soon.

      • Gloria says:

        Great. I have this evening free and I’m writing it in! Woot! Also, not that you asked my opinion, but I think giving a few weeks lead time for these book club discussions might further ensure participation. I schedule my time out weeks in advance and other people might, too. I’m very busy, Admin! Between therapy, acupuncture, Ninja training, and 1,257 weekly school functions, I almost don’t have time to sleep! Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

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