Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Brief Thoughts 24

A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley

This "fictional memoir" follows Frederick Exley through his various jobs, his struggles with alcoholism, his romances, and his flailing attempts at becoming a writer.

The title is an interesting one. In the beginning of the book, Exley has what he believes to be a heart attack while watching a football game in a bar. In reality, it was simply an anxiety attack brought on by his excitement at watching the game. Football is a major part of Exley's life. He recounts how his father could have been a football star and his relationship with a couple players who went on to become professionals. Exley, of course, had no hope of becoming a football star himself.

Later in the book, as Exley is struggling to write a book, he gets drunk and picks a fight that leaves him bruised up. After this fight, he comes to realize that' he's lashing out in ways like this because he feels he'll never be a great writer and knows he'll never be a great football player. He feels that he'll be nothing more than a fan.

Now, in spite of that depressing arc, this is actually a very funny book. Much of the book involves Exely's misadventures with various strange characters. Of the most notable is when he meets Mr. Blue, an eccentric old salesman obsessed with cunnilingus, and Paddy the Duke, a fellow mental hospital patient who pisses off everyone in the ward by beating them all at table tennis.

I think it's safe to say Exley became more than just a fan with this book and created a great piece of literature himself. Highly recommended.

Buy A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exely here. 

A Man for the Asking by Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat is most known as a French director of controversial and provocative films, but she's also a novelist and many of her books have been made into films, most directed by herself. A Man for the Asking was her first book, written she was only 16 and published when she was 17. Despite that, its graphic content made the French government restrict sales to anyone under the age of 18.

The story is pretty simple, a promiscuous man called D.P. tries to seduce a woman called L., but L. is (possibly) a virgin and doesn't want to have sex with D.P. unless he devotes himself entirely to her. The book isn't really driven by its story, its written in a very stream-of-consciousness manner and as is driven more by poetry, mood, and imagery.

There are several times where I could certainly tell a 16 year old wrote this. There are many attempts at being poetic that just come across as goofy. Using the phrase "gold in them thar hills" in reference to L.'s thighs strikes me as the most egregious. Then there's the fact that ending has D.P. committing seppuku with his own penis, pulling out his heart, and stuffing it in L.'s vagina. It's clearly trying to say something about sacrificing oneself for love but it just comes across as pretentious and silly.

There are also moments of wordplay which probably worked better in French, such as "cuntdown," "Penix rises from the ashes," and "pussy willyous." I want to blame a big part of why the book reads so ridiculously on the translation, but based on some French reviews I found, it isn't a well-remembered book in the original language either.

There are moments of brilliance here and some indications of Breillat's talent. A moment where D.P. envisions L. as a creature with several teats that he suckles from was actually striking instead of goofy. It's a shame this Oedipal image isn't fully explored. It's clear some humor was intended in many parts, like when D.P. trades double entendres with a mistress. I also found it entertaining enough that I got through it relatively quickly despite the dense style. But while this book is aspiring to be Story of the Eye, the aura of juvenilia still surrounds it. Breillat would go on to explore the themes of love and sex much better in her later work.

There was also apparently a film made based on the book. However, it was buried when the producer went bankrupt. That's a bit of a shame. I'm actually curious to what route was gone to translate this to the screen. 

I only really recommend this if you're already a huge fan of Catherine Breillat, or if you're really into weird French literature.

Buy A Man for the Asking by Catherine Breillat here.


Wolf said...

Funny to look at Goodreads and see a review for something as obscure as A Man for the Asking posted only a few days before I read it. I've been curious about it for awhile since I like Breillat's films, but I pretty much agree with what you said here. The style and subject matter feels SUPER 1960s and it's not much more than a curiosity if you want to see where Breillat started. Have you read her other one that's in English translation, Pornocracy?

Ben Arzate said...

I haven't read it yet. I'm especially curious to read that one given Peter Sotos contributed an afterward to it.

Wolf said...

I don't recall being too fond of it despite liking Anatomy of Hell, but I might give it another shot soon. From what I remember, the Sotos part was like a near-impenetrable contextualization of Breillat's work with that of Andrea Dworkin and old BDSM videos. I think some of it got recycled in Lordotics.