Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Book: A Fan’s Notes, by Frederick Exley (1968)

It’s not that I have a bad education. It’s just a little spotty on the details. Once you get away from my extremely narrow areas of expertise, I’m the mental equivalent of a Potemkin village. I know the gists of things, enough to bluff my way through the Double Jeopardy round of life but not to finish in the money.

So every January, I make the same pledge: to read better books. Some years I even make lists of titles, classics old and new.

This year, I actually picked one of them up. And wish that I’d done so a long time ago.

Exley’s “fictional memoir” contrasts his life – big dreams undone by apathy, alcoholism and extended stays in mental hospitals – with that of his former college classmate, New York Giants star Frank Gifford. One achieves success while the other seems destined to observe life from the sidelines.

It is, simply put, one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, written in a clear-eyed, simple style that recalls J. D. Salinger and packs ferocious emotional weight. It’s an unstinting exploration of masculinity and what it means to be branded a failure in American society. I had a rare experience when I finished it: I knew that I’d be reading it again.

As for the other great books on my list, I’ll get to them. Don’t rush me. You should be happy I got this far.

Movie: Klute (1971)

Jane Fonda is about to hit the comeback trail with an autobiography and a new comedy. I wouldn’t number her among my favorite actresses of all time, but she deserved the Oscar she won for this movie, part of the cycle of ‘70s paranoid thrillers. It’s a smart film that’s too chilly for its own good.

But Fonda is brilliant playing a New York call girl who’s a small town detective’s only link to a missing man. It’s a harrowing portrait of self-destructive behavior, and Fonda holds nothing back. All of her theatrical mannerisms work to the character’s advantage.

Disturbing fact: Donald Sutherland – also wonderful in the film as he’s been in so many others – has never been nominated for an Academy Award. Better start prepping that Lifetime Achievement trophy now.