A Fan's Notes is a sardonic account of mental illness, alcoholism, insulin shock therapy and electroconvulsive therapy, and the black hole of sports fandom. Its central preoccupation with a failure to measure up to the American dream has earned the novel comparisons to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby . Beginning with his childhood in Watertown, New York, growing up under a sports-obsessed father and following his college years at the USC, where he first came to know his hero Frank Gifford, Exley recounts years of intermittent stints at psychiatric institutions, his failed marriage to a woman named Patience, successive unfulfilling jobs teaching English literature to high school students, and working for a Manhattan public relations firm under contract to a weapons company, and, by way of Gifford, his obsession with the New York Giants.
Exley's introspective "fictional memoir", a tragicomic indictment of 1950s American culture, examines in lucid prose themes of celebrity, masculinity, self-absorption, and addiction, morbidly charting his failures in life against the electrifying successes of his football hero and former classmate. The title comes from Exley's fear that he is doomed to be a spectator in life as well as in sports.