Frederick Exley is a writer's writer, and "A Fan's Notes," first published in 1968, is a minor classic. Confessional, anguished, autobiographical, it is perhaps the best account we have of a contemporary writer's life--that lonely and gloomy existence.
In this novel-as-memoir, Exley is 32, newly separated from his wife and 2-year-old twin sons. He teaches school at a second-rate college, hates himself, feels more dead than alive. "My friends and I had long proved an embarrassment to one another; I, embarrassing them because I drank too much, was unreliable in my debts and working habits, and had been 'hospitalized' a number of times; I, embarrassed because they were."
Exley finds solace in watching the New York Giants (hence the book's title), in literature and, of course, in writing, by which he is able to transcend his defeated life and render it, through humor and acute self-knowledge, into a sort of triumph.
CALL ME ANNA The Autobiography of Patty Duke by Patty Duke and Kenneth Turan (Bantam Books: $4.95)
From her humble beginnings as a child growing up in New York's Kips Bay, to stardom on Broadway at age 7, to Hollywood, this is the story of Patty Duke's turbulent years, first as the ward of personal managers Ethel and John Ross, who packaged her career, changing her name from Anna Marie to Patty and isolating her from her parents and siblings.
Duke's story--her descent into alcoholism, chaos and despair--is all the more powerful to read in contrast to the wholesome roles she played. America's sweetheart--star of her own series at 15 (the show was filmed in New York where a lack of child labor laws allowed the producers to work her harder)--grew up without a center. Adrift after the cancellation of her series, Duke fell apart. What saved her was a comparatively stable marriage and the diagnosis of manic depression. The condition tamed by medication; Duke was at last able to transcend the devastation of her childhood, and to find salvation in forgiveness and devotion to her own children.
BLOOD JUSTICE The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker by Howard Smead (Oxford University Press: $7.95)
The lynching of Mack Charles Parker in Poplarville, Miss., in 1959 was one of the last gasps of white supremacy on the eve of the civil rights movement.
It was in this charged atmosphere that M. C. Parker, a Mississippi black, was accused of raping June Walters, a pregnant white woman whose car had broken down on the back roads of Mississippi. When June picked Parker out of a lineup at the police station, an officer pulled his gun out of its holster and offered it to her husband, Jimmy, so he could shoot Parker--with impunity. But Jimmy Walters said, "No, I don't believe in violence. I want him to stand trial."
Unfortunately, others in this Southern community didn't share Jimmy's view. Parker (who claimed innocence all along) was abducted from his jail cell, beaten, shot dead and dumped into the river. A massive FBI investigation failed to bring either arrests or indictments against the white lynch mob.
Based on previously unreleased FBI and Justice Department documents, extensive interviews with those involved in the case and newspaper reports, Howard Smead objectively depicts the harrowing account of vigilante revenge and the failure of the authorities to effect justice.
IN DEEP Country Essays by Maxine Kumin (Beacon Press, Boston: $8.95)
In 1976, Maxine Kumin left the city life behind and moved to a farm on a New Hampshire hillside. A novelist, essayist and winner in 1973 of a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Kumin finds "the impulse for poems" in the dailiness of rural life. In this wonderful collection of homespun essays, crafted with a poet's touch, Kumin writes of hunting for mushrooms, building a fence, ministering to an orphan foal.
"My daily life provides a metaphor for my work . . . enabling me to pull poems up out of the well of the commonplace. . . . These New England upland pastures are like a secret garden, like the impulse toward a poem."
As Kumin watches a filly move "freely and with . . . a kind of glorying effortlessness," she sees a parallel to her own work: "She moves the way a poem ought to move, once it's crafted."