Blake Bailey's "The Splendid Things We Planned" --- An Acclaimed Biographer on His Troubled Sibling

Mar 14, 2014

We speak by phone today with Blake Bailey, who grew up in Oklahoma City, now teaches creative writing in Virginia, and is the author of three highly regarded literary biographies (of Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Charles Jackson). Bailey has now turned his attention to his own roots --- and specifically to his late brother, Scott, whose too-brief life was marked by incessant tragedy, addiction, recklessness, and mental instability --- in a just-published autobiography called "The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait." Dave Itzkoff, in The New York Times Book Review, called this memoir "enthralling...achingly honest...a fearless, deeply felt, and often frightening book [that] arrives at a certain undeniable truth about how we are capable of feeling love for people we would never choose to be around." And as was noted, further, in a starred review in Booklist: "Bailey, author of acclaimed biographies of Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Charles Jackson, once remarked that his aim in writing such books was 'to reconcile the paradox of a highly compartmentalized personality.' This memoir suggests that Bailey's fascination with compartmentalized and addicted people, and his considerable gift for explicating the simultaneous bleakness and beauty of their lives, may stem from personal experience. Goofy and affectionate but deeply self-destructive, Bailey's older brother, Scott, careened from one disaster to the next, bewildering and disappointing everyone around him. Though Scott has functional moments, including a stint in the marines, during which he became a master sharpshooter, such moments become footnotes to a larger pattern of wrecked cars, jail time, and intoxicated self-pity. Their father, an upright Oklahoma attorney, tries to wash his hands of his son, but Scott becomes increasingly unhinged and unignorable. As his own life begins to blossom, Bailey remains an ambivalent participant in this sad family saga, torn by his antipathy for his brother yet aware of all that they share. The result is a haunting portrait of more than one tortured soul and a heartfelt probing of the limits of brotherly love." Please note that Bailey will be reading from and signing copies of this book tonight, Friday the 14th, at a Book Smart Tulsa event at the Circle Cinema (near the corner of Admiral and Lewis); the event starts at 7pm, and you can learn more here.