Over at The Daily Beast, my pal Allen Barra writes about Frederick Exley and his muse, the late Frank Gifford:
A Fan’s Notes stayed white hot in my memory, and I could hardly believe my good luck just a couple of years later to have come across the author. The day after Exley called, I dialed the number he had left me: Is this Frederick Exley, I asked. He recognized my voice. “Call me Fred,” he said. And so I did during a series of phone conversations in which we talked football and literature.
“Don’t you think football is a much more interesting game than baseball?” he asked me, an opinion with which I agreed, but only because I thought saying yes was much more conducive to conversation. Football seemed to be the only sport he liked. “I’d rather watch paint dry,” he said, “than watch pro basketball.” We both spent much time reading Nabokov and Edmund Wilson—he told me he thought Wilson had “cleaned Vladdie’s clock” in their famous exchange of letters—and we were both delighted to find we had spent hours in secondhand book shops tracking down old editions of G.K. Chesterton. I sent him the first feature I had written for the Voice, an account of what it was like to grow up in an Alabama dominated by Bear Bryant. I was immensely pleased when he overpraised it.
I asked Fred if A Fan’s Notes was a novel or a memoir. “Well,” he replied, “I used a lot of stuff from my life, but I made up a lot of the book, too, and when you make it up, that’s fiction.” He pointed out that in “A Note to the Reader” at the beginning of the book, he had said, “I ask to be judged as a writer of fantasy.”