Thursday, January 5, 2012
There are people who say that Notes is one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written, and I am certainly not going to dispute that fact. Following Exley's personal journey through failure, madness, drunkenness and his worship of Frank Gifford during his time on the New York Giants, Exley creates a compelling, dark, twisted world that is exquisitely written. The fact that he was even able to complete this book is stunning, as there could've been several times he could've given up and let himself wither away in a mental hospital (which he was in multiple times). Yet, here this book stands, surveying the wreckage.
I'm not breaking any news that this book is great. Many people have delved into this before, as I am sure what I'm going to say next has been, as well. I look back at some of my favorite writers of my favorite books, and the core behind them all is some sort of madness. Raymond Carver drank himself to death. James Ellroy had a frighteningly bizarre childhood and young adulthood, including the murder of his mother. Exley seemed to relish his insanity/alcoholism. Woolf and Hemingway killed themselves. Hunter S. Thompson lived perilously close to the edge for years until paying for it in the process. Pynchon and Salinger went into hiding for most of their lives. All had moments (some full careers) of genius, and all paid for it in the process.
It brings up the question: to be a truly great writer, does one have to sacrifice a piece of themselves in the process? Can one find greatness without it?