Read The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait by Blake Bailey Online


The renowned biographer’s unforgettable portrait of a family in ruins—his own.Meet the Baileys: Burck, a prosperous lawyer once voted the American Legion’s “Citizen of the Year” in his tiny hometown of Vinita, Oklahoma; his wife Marlies, who longs to recapture her festive life in Greenwich Village as a pretty young German immigrant, fresh off the boat; their addled son ScoThe renowned biographer’s unforgettable portrait of a family in ruins—his own.Meet the Baileys: Burck, a prosperous lawyer once voted the American Legion’s “Citizen of the Year” in his tiny hometown of Vinita, Oklahoma; his wife Marlies, who longs to recapture her festive life in Greenwich Village as a pretty young German immigrant, fresh off the boat; their addled son Scott, who repeatedly crashes the family Porsche; and Blake, the younger son, trying to find a way through the storm. “You’re gonna be just like me,” a drunken Scott taunts him. "You’re gonna be worse."Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Blake Bailey has been hailed as "addictively readable" (New York Times) and praised for his ability to capture lives "compellingly and in harrowing detail" (Time). The Splendid Things We Planned is his darkly funny account of growing up in the shadow of an erratic and increasingly dangerous brother, an exhilarating and sometimes harrowing story that culminates in one unforgettable Christmas....

Title : The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393350562
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait Reviews

  • Scott
    2019-04-17 13:33

    This isn't for everyone, Blake Bailey's pointed, self-indulgent, sometimes legitimately harrowing family memoir; it often reads like a 300 page Al-Anon (and/or AA) qualification, with all of the inevitable repetition, head-shaking denial, dark humor, ridiculous melodrama. Also: you wouldn't want to spend much (any) time with any of these people in real life. No, not even our author, the Pultizer Prize-finalist literary biographer Bailey the younger himself, who is brutally honest in putting a spotlight on his own failings and fuck ups. Definitely not the deluded, narcissistic mom Marlies, nor the Oklahoma City power lawyer father Burck. And, most of all, you would want to avoid at all costs the train wreck at the center of the tale, alcoholic and junkie, mentally disturbed, violent and creepy elder brother Scott. These are not charming people. And the almost complete absence of any sort of reference to or awareness of the principles of Al-Anon or AA is baffling, considering the nearly forty-year time frame of behavior that so obviously would benefit from either or both. BUT I tore through The Splendid Things We Planned anyway, a tribute to Bailey's sharp writing, brisk storytelling, and, well, sometimes it's just kind of entertaining to read about such messed-up lives I guess. I think the (mostly) Oklahoma setting helped, too, a part of the country that strikes me as exotic in that annoying New Yorker sort of way, ie, "people actually live there??" So: a great read, which you might hate.

  • Donna Davis
    2019-04-01 12:19

    Blake Bailey is one hell of a writer. In this memoir of a family that is first twisted and then broken, he has given of himself in a way that is impossible to measure. It is a powerhouse of a memoir, a beacon that starts out distant and becomes gradually more focused and immediate in a way only a master of the genre can do. I feel fortunate for having been lucky enough to catch a glimpse free and in advance, courtesy of his publisher and the first reads program. If you are drawn to haunting, searingly evocative memoirs, I recommend you go out and get a copy for yourself. You won't forget this one.In the beginning, he is so droll that I mistakenly dropped this story onto my "humor" shelf. It begins light, as childhood tends to be in spite of everything, and gradually, not unlike the "Clouds" he uses to end his story, it darkens, at first almost imperceptibly, then in a way that builds until the reader sits up, sits back (perhaps like me) to say, "Oh HELL no!" or, "Did that just happen?"It did. And when you think about it, how could it be otherwise?It is not just a good read, but also a damning indictment of the so-called justice system in the USA. How much human potential has been wasted in funding and resorting to incarceration when mental health care is so badly needed for so many?I have a couple of quotations I had considered using, but I am not supposed to quote directly until the final copy is published, and these may not be there then. And indeed, why should I do that when I recommend that you read it yourself? It would ruin part of the discovery for you.The silence when he finishes is thunderous and deafening.

  • Kate
    2019-03-24 15:46

    When David Sedaris recommends a book, read the book. I saw Sedaris live a few weeks ago and at the end of the reading, he read an excerpt from this book, followed by high praise. I bought it immediately. Blake Bailey is a skilled and articulate writer. My vocabulary is better for having read this book. The story is tragic, honest and compelling. I looked forward to bus rides and quiet moments so that I could get back to reading this. You won't fall in love with the characters, because you're not supposed to. You might fall in love with the storytelling, though. There's a lot to comment on in this book- family dysfunction, mental illness, etc. I'm lending it to my friend because I need to talk about it. I recommend it to anyone fascinated by family dynamics (like me).

  • Daniele Tessaro
    2019-04-02 13:21

    This book was recommended to the public by David Sedaris (who I deeply love) at the end of one of his shows. He spent several minutes describing the many reasons to love Blake Bailey and this book, and I ended up being very intrigued by it: dark and wit humor mixed with the sense of tragedy that only real life stories, those that are lived by your neighbor, can convey. My two favorite things to find in a book. But this book failed to meet my expectations. The first quarter of it is the story of two young kids whose life is not out of the ordinary. Really not much to be interested in.Later on, when the alcohol starts flowing, I think Baley fails at keeping the interest of the reader on. He describes the events in a very detached way, a sequence of incidents in his life, and in those of his family members, without really conveying a sense of drama, without having the reader participate to the tragedy, always keeping an emotional distance that sounds like a sort of nihilist form of self protection. This would have been acceptable if Bailey made a good job at using black humor as the foundation of his work, like Sedaris himself used to do. But he also fails at being trenchant or fun, except for very few lines.At the end what is left to the reader is a book whose purpose is not clear. I'm sure this was much more useful to Bailey to understand his life, and that of his family, than it is to us. A way to clean up some skeletons in his closet and get some peace of mind. For us, other than a nice picture of an addict brother, of an hippy mother and his gay friends, there's nothing more to enjoy.PS: I have read not many books in english, but I have to admit this book made me realize english is a much reacher language than I expected. Pretty much each page required me to use the vocabulary to learn a new term, which I believe is a good thing.

  • Anthony Page
    2019-04-09 12:21

    Wow.... Not sure where to start! Bailey is widely known as one of the world's best literary biographers, but I wondered how well he could pull off his own memoir-- something which requires a quite different skill set. My worries were entirely without merit.Bailey's memoir is a fast-paced, gripping and suspenseful read--- both highly entertaining, yet disturbing. Beyond it's entertainment value, however, it is extremely thought-provoking. How is one's destiny shaped through personal choices? What are the responsibilities of close friends and family when one of their own begins to slip through the cracks? What are society's responsibilities?A prospective reader of The Splendid Things we Planned should be prepared to be entranced, engaged and disturbed--- a must read!

  • Holly
    2019-04-01 13:49

    Nope. Nope. I listened to an hour and I just don't want to stay with these people. Life is short. Thank god for Overdrive audiobooks that I can borrow and return without going broke.

  • Jeremy
    2019-04-08 11:42

    I suspect Blake Bailey writes so well he could make anything interesting. I had read little of, and knew little about John Cheever, before reading Bailey's wonderful biography of him. That book was difficult to put down, and he brings the same complexity of thought, economy of language, and admirable empathy towards the bitterness, struggles, and disappointments of life to this memoir. This book is an enveloping look at one unhappy family, in which people age, grow, and even change, but nothing ever really improves. If the sad story of the author's brother's life means anything, I suspect it's that even seemingly irredeemable people got to that condition by degrees, and that it may be impossible to tell when a person, a relationship, or a dream has past its last chances for a happy resolution. This is a haunting book I expect will stay with me for a long time.

  • Eva
    2019-03-28 13:30

    This was a wonderfully written memoir by Mr. Bailey that I read in three sittings. Had I not had so many other things going on, I would have finished it in one. It was difficult for me to put down. Mr. Blake writes openly and honestly about his life and the life of his brother, Scott, from their early years and into adulthood in such a way that makes one realize that we get out of life what we put into it. We are given insight into the personalities, lives, and dysfunctions of not only himself and Scott, but Marlies, their free-spirited, in-denial mother, Burck, their lawyer dad, almost always bailing one out of trouble and various other family members.It is a sad and poignant story, and it makes me appreciate so much more all the little things in life that I have to be thankful for.Please note, I received this copy as a winner of a Goodreads giveaway. Had I not, I probably would not have had the opportunity to read this and I am glad I dId.

  • Beth Newman
    2019-04-05 10:41

    An incredibly well-written book; however, I found the writer's flippant tone toward his drug-addicted, mentally ill brother disturbing. I also felt a fair portion of this book was too self-indulgent for my tastes. The only character I felt any empathy toward was the brother with the problems.I almost stopped reading when the author began certain conversations regarding his brother's very existance. My personal beliefs about life cannot abide nor understand this way of thinking. I know firsthand how addiction and mental illness can tear families apart, but there are plenty of resources out there for those struggling and for family members who can no longer help with the struggle. Seek and ye shall find.With that being said, I believe Mr. Bailey is an excellent writer, and I'm open to reading his additional

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-21 16:39

    Received through firstreads..I really enjoyed this, although at times I wanted to slap some people repeatedly. It had the quality of making you want to know how it would end, when in the back of your mind you already knew there was really only one way it could. Depressing, and parts of it disturbingly familiar if you have a "dysfunctional family".

  • Marnie Kaplan
    2019-03-31 17:24

    I picked up four new books from the library this afternoon - all novels except for Blake Bailey's memoir, The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait. Hours later, I opened Bailey's memoir after briefly reading one of the novels. The cover, the title, and the prologue all quickly demanded my attention. The majority of my reading is fiction and fictional stories usually beckon me the loudest. Yet, I have recently been barreled over by a series of non-fiction books. And when I think back over the last ten years I can think of countless memoirs that have captivated and haunted me.Fiction is marvelous and in my eyes one of the greatest joys of my life. But there is something about a true story that demands a different type of attention. As human beings, we feel an imperative pull to make sense of the world around us but also a deep pull to schadenfreude. We read every detail about Adam Lanza in the hopes of making sense of the unfathomable. But we also drive by a car crash and crane our necks. We tune into 20/20 and get drawn in by the story of a man stolen as a baby. We feel a deep desire to discover his personal truth as if it is our own. And we open our newspapers and peruse stories accessible and impenetrable. We try to understand the mistakes of others. And sometimes we try to put ourselves in other's shoes. We study an individual's actions and family in the hope of learning lessons that will make our own pathways easier. And thus memoirs continue to find audiences.I have read other memoirs because I couldn't pull myself away. I have read them because the story was so unbelievable and the language so stirring. But I have also read memoirs because they reflect back to me an experience through which I can make better sense of my own experiences.The implosion of Bailey's family is something very foreign from my own lived experience. But there were still elements that helped me to make sense of my experiences. For example, while reading about Bailey's delayed adolescence (and long path to his eventual success as a literary biographer), I felt a loosening of some of my own anguish. I think what drew me the most into Bailey's story was the concise and calm way he reveals the events of his brother's life. A screaming baby morphs into a thirteen year old who masters German, torments his younger brother needlessly and works harder for his parents' attention. He goes off to NYU only to quit without even attempting to complete a semester. He eventually joins the Marines and finds success at least in the eyes of his mother while continuing down the same spirals.Bailey is deeply honest and also deeply detached. He reveals details about his own family as if he is writing a dictation of their life events and not an autobiography. He imparts his own thoughts and feelings about events and yet they are delivered without real emotion.Bailey has a (unsurprisingly) keen eye for detail and a no-nonsense approach to writing. But part of me wanted more from the memoir. Bailey fails in the end to explain his brother's behavior and also at times fails to humanize him. As an adult, he is quick to dismiss his brother and wish him dead (he seems to think time and time again: it's enough already, he will never change). He also seems unable to understand why his mother was unable to give up on her son.The memoir ultimately raises many more questions than it answers. Could the Bailey parents have done more to prevent their son's failures? Were the Bailey parents too lax? Did Blake owe his brother more kindness? Was Scott schizophrenic or bipolar and self-medicating? Even though I wished for more emotion and more definitive answers, the memoir is a deeply fascinating read. There are two main themes that reverberate throughout the book - the first is the idea of complicated love. The epigraph before the book states: "That's one of the damnedest things I ever found out about human emotions and how treacherous they can be--the fact that you can hate a place with all your heart and soul and still be homesick for it. Not to speak of the fact that you can hate a person with all your heart and soul and still long for that person." Bailey asserts that even though his brother was an addict who wreaked havoc in their family, he is still the only sibling he had, the brother who held him when he was a baby, the only person who shared his childhood memories. His own feelings for his brother seem overwhelmingly negative but maybe that is just the feeling one gets from the second half of the book. And even so, it is clear that Mariles still longs for her son. The second main theme is the question of what does a parent owe a child and is it ever acceptable for a parent to give up on their adult child? Bailey recalls his father saying, “When a child is young, you can catch him if he falls. Then he gets a little older and falls from a higher place. Maybe you can still catch him. But finally he’s a full-grown adult and falls off the top of a building—then you have to decide: either get out of the way or be crushed.” Bailey's parents (who divorced) had different responses to their sons troubles and thus represent the ends of the spectrum. The memoir is captivating and thought-provoking and their are ideas and images from it that will stay with me for a while.

  • Adam
    2019-04-11 12:32

    There's a frustrating paradox involved in the writing of a memoir--namely, the very people who've lived lives interesting enough to write about also have legacies and careers to preserve, making true honesty downright impossible. Which is why, year after year, the bestseller list is dominated by memoirs of the famous and influential--actors and actresses, politicians, writers, pundits--that are both massive and hollow. Even when these public figures manage to create something bordering on honest--the infamous "tell-all"--they always manage to portray themselves as pinnacles of purity and rational thinking amid the thoughtless, impure masses.*In other words, they skirt the truth if not lie outright--an act that violates the very agreement between themselves and the people who read their work. In order for a memoir to succeed--in order for it to actually have a purpose beyond feeding the ego of its creator--it must be brutal and unadorned, with explanations instead of excuses and clarity instead of self-preservation, even if that means poisoning otherwise healthy relationships or scrutinizing an otherwise incorruptible career. If a memoirist isn't willing to sacrifice everything they hold dear in the name of truth, then the story is best left untold. This is the danger and the beauty of autobiography.Blake Bailey's The Splendid Things We Planned is danger and beauty as it should be. Subtitled "A Family Portrait," Bailey's memoir is ostensibly the story of his brother Scott's decades-long drug abuse, underpinned by an undiagnosed mental disorder, which builds towards a tragic but inevitable conclusion.** Along the way we witness Scott's rambunctious younger years, where signs of his upcoming struggles are indistinguishable from cliched adolescent tribulations, all of which slowly builds into his wandering college years, failed jobs, dalliances with harder drugs, and crumbling relationships with almost every member of his family, including the author himself. At the same time, Blake struggles with his own problems--a jealous temper, rampant alcoholism, an unsteady series of jobs--and at times the brothers seems to juggle their respective roles, with Scott cleaning his life up while Blake's falls apart, only to reverse a year or so later. As Bailey notes in his "Acknowledgements," he and Scott were eerily similar--a truth that is both comforting and heartbreaking when taken with the 250 pages of unsettling recollections that precede it.What makes Bailey's memoir so effective--that is, what makes it so representative of what a memoir can and should be--is how honestly he recounts every detail, even when it means revealing his own failures and shortcomings, as well as those of his otherwise wonderful family. More often than not, Bailey is downright vicious towards Scott, antagonizing him over the sundry trials of his past to the point where our sympathies are suddenly confused. We know that Scott has problems and needs help, just as we know the severity of his past mistakes cannot be ignored or blamed away, and yet we cringe in these moments--and there are more than a few--knowing even without being there the weight of these actions on those involved. Towards the end, after his family has endured decades of Scott's instability and abuse, their conversations with one another turn to the possibility of Scott committing suicide--sometimes darkly humorous, sometimes hopeful--and we find ourselves shocked but also unable to judge them fully. We may not agree, but we understand, and that--perhaps--is all the author asks of us.Blake Bailey's family is portrayed as uncharacteristically open-minded for mid-century Oklahoma--they are atheists, and their home is open to gay and Arab friends--and this belief in openness is obviously part of the reason why he is able to bleed onto the page without concern. When the story ends, few if any of the people featured in its pages are without a reason for shame or guilt; even those with no connection to Scott's failed rehabilitations have moments of anger, pettiness, or cruelty. But that's the point--they are forced to deal with situations beyond their control, and in the process they make mistakes and grow frustrated, revealing their humanity. Bailey could have easily glossed over these instances and focused solely on his brother, but in doing so he would've been lying about the impact of drug abuse and undiagnosed mental illnesses--the two chains that dragged down every member of his family and quite a few friends and bystanders. After all, a memoir is more than just the story of the writer's life--it is the story of all lives.*The one exception to this rule is memoirs by musicians, where the exact opposite seems to apply: the harder you lived, the better your story and more worthwhile the book.**Scott Bailey is diagnosed only once in the story, with paranoid schizophrenia, a diagnosis that is dismissed as inaccurate.This review was originally published at There Will Be Books Galore.

  • Ian Holmes
    2019-04-11 10:49

    This book was a beautiful punch in the gut.

  • Pradnya K.
    2019-04-03 17:37

    I loved the book but I want to make this statement - Its not a book for everyone. You won't find a good story, fantasy, twist, long lasting inspiration - things likewise to keep you glued to it. Yet, for me it was compelling read since I love the true stories - especially the ones with proper analysis of human life. And written this well.It's thought provoking. One could hear the strong author who made it to Pulitzer prize finalist. (Not for this book, though)It took me long time to finish this book. When it ended it left a question - how'd you feel when a chapter ends n so does a book, ending a life? I wonder did I get it correct? Because it left me baffled. Because I never came around a story like that. A life which would end for good. It's hard to believe such thing yet the narrative takes us to every little loose n screwed, wrecked moment of Scott's life.The splendid things we planned must have been hard book to write. The author acknowledges that. But not because of eleven years it took. It takes a lot to ponder in the past, to come with the events and your response to it with such details: vivid and intricate. Also it's ruthless with facts.It sounds too honest, too earnest. There seems nothing hidden. A story of two brothers, nah, a journey of one brother seen from the other's eyes. A modern American family, two sons, successful father. Scott is an elder brother of author - a sort of charismatic person who couldn't handle things well and seeks asylum in drugs and alcohol. The life starts taking U turn to destruction. Every time things seem going well, they go worse. What makes it incredible is the fact that its true.“The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned”The lines tell the nostalgia and though it sounds hard n unbearable to put with somebody like Scott there's grief in his absence. As a writer, Bailey is awesome. The racy language never lets the book dull but it's same with the incidents. Scott's journey seems an adventure, tumbling from one wreck to other, sometimes gliding and soaring but eventually drowning. It's a an autobiography in part but it rarely revolves around life of writer rather its all about his feelings for his family and his brother. Like a mirror reflecting someone else's persona and showing the hidden facets of his life. The snug, bully, tender n reckless child, did he ever grow out of it? Did life ever ceased being a playground for him? He never seemed to take life seriously. Or is it just the same with all addicts? Is addiction a issue in itself or its absence of ambition that makes the void which can't be filled with anything but drugs, temporarily.The story leaves impression of soul who never got purpose of life. I couldn't help think had he been tied in few responsibilities it'd be different story but one never knows. Somewhere I read Willa Cather's words The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring.” That way Scott put up a lot of fight and lost a lot too. If intricate characters, life and problems gravitate you to think, just go for this read. Something noteworthy - don't skip the ritual of going through dictionary for every new word. Believe me your vocab gonna end being richer that way after you done this book.

  • Robert Miller
    2019-04-12 12:37

    This is one of the best books I have read this year. The author presents an intense accounting of the lives of his family with special focus on his brother (only sibling),Scott. The topics, while tragic, are not so far removed from reality from many families so as to make these discussions capricious. Blake Bailey writes (in memoir style) about his troubled older brother (alcoholic and mentally challenged), successful lawyer/father, enabling biological mother, step-mother (who wants little to do with either brother) and his mother's relatives and liberal friends. From the get-go, Scott is idolized by Blake owing to his superior physical appearances subject to his malicious treatment- he bullies and beats Blake up often. As their lives progress, Scott's self-destructive behavior permeates the lives of all; he is clearly mentally ill and self-medicates with mental illusions, alcohol and eventually hard drugs. Blake is no stranger to alcohol but most of the book is directed at the families struggle to "fix" Scott. Their efforts, after a couple of grueling decades (the mother absolutely refuses to give up on Scott and his father, although chagrined, is there financially) fail. Through the whole process, Bailey masterfully colorizes and interweaves the distinct quirks of the extended family and relatives (including his German mother's gay friends) in an amazingly humorous fashion (you have to laugh to keep from crying through much of this book). Bailey has clearly established himself as one of the great writers of the day in this excellent work.

  • Debra
    2019-04-12 17:41

    The author's brother's struggles were so eerily similar to those of my younger brother's that I couldn't help but grab onto this family's story. Car wrecks, hospitals, mental illness, drug abuse, reckless sexuality. It all ends badly, affecting the whole family in a disastrous way. We can choose to think of him as the little adorable boy with unleashed potential when we indulge ourselves. When we are faced with the ugly reality of what his life became, we resent him, loathe him, fear him, pity him, regret him. Because we are human, with human heart conditions, we let a little hope live until even that is snatched away. Always teetering on a precarious edge of madness, leaving us to decide if we put our arms out to catch him or cover our eyes and run away. A quote from a therapist in this book I will never forget is this: When he was young, we held out our arms to catch him when he would fall. But as he grew into a man, he became larger, and stood from a higher place and we must choose to either get out of the way or be crushed by him. My thought is that without much choice at all, we do both. We are forced to get out of the way and inevitably are crushed all the same. We cannot save anyone from their own self-destructive path. We must pave our own path and find peace along the way.Thanks, Blake Bailey for being brave, open, and honest in your telling. I so appreciate the rendering of your family portrait.Unkraut vergeht nicht - indeed!

  • Stacy Cook
    2019-03-28 18:45

    If you have an interest in memoirs about addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill or people who are just generally self destructive this book has it all! In The Splendid Things We Planned author Blake Bailey, known for his biographies of John Cheever’s and Richard Yates, in this book tells the story of his own family.While Bailey is truly open and honest in his depiction of both his own chaotic life and that of his parents; Burck, his father, a lawyer from Oklahoma and Marlies, his narcissistic, German born mother, the memoir primarily focuses around his brother Scott, an undiagnosed, mentally ill addict and alcoholic. Bailey takes us on a journey where he is the awkward teenager; and Scott is the golden boy, fair haired and handsome; to a time when they both struggle with addiction. All the while the entire family is going through their own personal turmoil. Finally, everyone finds their place, everyone but Scott, who continues to struggle with whatever demons he may have. A quote from the father, Burck describes the book best: “When a child is young you can catch him if he falls. Then he gets a little older and falls from a higher place. Maybe you can still catch him. But finally he’s a full-grown adult and falls off the top of a building then you have to decide: either get out of the way or be crushed.”

  • Sharon Mcalister
    2019-03-30 16:34

    This is a truly sad book. It is the story of a family of four. The father is a successful attorney married to a woman he met while studying in Germany. Together they have two sons, Scott and Blake. Scott is a handsome and well liked little boy in the beginning. As he begins school, he starts to change. He is always acting out and is mean to others. Blake, the younger brother, is frequently the target of Scott's attacks both verbal and physical. The problems with Scott just continue to multiply as he matures. The family is thrown into complete disarray trying to alternately deal with Scott's behaviors and ignore his behaviors. The book is narrated by Blake. In the course of the memoir, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, criminal acts,jail sentences, divorce and remarriage are all visited upon the various family members. In a review prior toreading this memoir, it was said to be "darkly funny" at times. I did not find this to be the case. I found thebook heartbreaking.

  • Mylinda Mayfield Lawhun
    2019-04-11 12:25

    What a good book. Blake Bailey is able to remove himself and write like he is on the outside looking in yet he was there all along. Sometimes when families are in situations like this you ARE on the outside looking in because you are only a helpless witness. When you get down to it there really isn't much that is in your control except how YOU deal with it.At first I thought maybe he was cold and heartless but the more I read the more I understood his tone. His brother is such a stunning portrayal of what mental illness and drug abuse can do to a family. It can hold them hostage for years. What I really liked was that the author makes sure to portray all of the family members and all of their flaws, INCLUDING HIS OWN. I kept looking for a reason why or for someone to blame when in reality it is just a concoction of good and bad that can't be explained away. It just is. What a beautiful, heart wrenching and at times laugh out loud funny look at what being human and belonging to a family is all about. A raw and powerful must read!

  • Cathy
    2019-04-16 16:40

    This memoir was a harrowing, exhausting experience for me to read. It had to have been a thousand times that for the author and his family to actually live through. Blake Bailey, our author, who is now a respected biographer, turns his lens on his own history, and it's just plain ugly. His brother, three years older than he, was, quite simply, screwed up. Scott Bailey drank and took drugs and crashed cars and was often cruel and vulgar to those he loved best. He could be loving, with a sharp sense of humor, but his rough side won out most of the time. His family -- his younger brother, his attorney father, and his German-born mother -- gave him chance after chance to improve, and he squandered those chances, blowing them up in people's faces. The book is not for the faint of heart. It's full of vulgarity and LOTS of really bad language and crude references. Mostly, it's hardest to read if one knows a similar character to Scott. It's hardest to watch someone waste their life, blaming the screwups entirely on everyone else.Bailey is a stellar writer, and his story is worth telling.

  • Danielle McClellan
    2019-03-21 11:34

    The memoir of a family utterly without compassion. We follow the lives of Bailey and his family, with a focus on his brother Chris’s spiral through drugs, jail, alcohol, vagrancy, and finally death. Bailey is unsparing (and, one might argue, cruel) in his dissection of the important moments that laid the path to the inevitable suicide of his brother, but there is little empathy in his brush--he is the Lucian Freud of memoirists, and seems to almost rejoice in his detailed descriptions of the pimples on his brother’s face and the dissolute lives that he and his brother lead. He draws a surprisingly delicate veil around the issue of child abuse, which is hinted at and which would make sense--when children behave cruelly towards one another, it is generally learned from the adults around them. As searingly revealing as the book is, the harshness of each family member seems strange from one who makes a living as a biographer. Without empathy or compassion, the entire family seems doomed from the start.

  • Thomas Fugett
    2019-04-11 13:23

    Blake Bailey, acclaimed profiler of the most dysfunctional writers of the 20th century, here profiles his own brother Scott, who might be in the running for one of the most dysfunctional human beings ever. A fuck up's fuck-up, Scott is alternately despicable and charming, capable, yet by his own words not 'conventionally ambitious'. Blake and Scott's Oklahoma childhoods are privileged and ideal, but the suburban sheen hides a very unhappy home. In short, Scott makes his family miserable not only through his antics, but also in how he is able to hold a mirror to his family's own poor behavior, especially that of the author.

  • Melinda
    2019-04-13 11:44

    Bailey writes his family story in a brutally candid tone. Tragic, funny, poignant. No finger pointing, blame is equally dispersed and shared among each member. Drug abuse, mental illness, detachment, this family experienced it all and more. Takes courage to open up the secret door to your entire family, no sugar coating just raw, barbarous truth. You are far braver than I am Mr Bailey. I wonder if my son will allow an audience privy into our family, kinda scary. I hope when revealing your pain for all to read heals rather than hurts. Perhaps Bailey found his memoir catharsis. A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review

  • Uwe Hook
    2019-04-10 14:37

    One of the best books of 2014.This accomplished, disarmingly frank memoir belongs up there with "Shot in the Heart" and "Running with Scissors", as one of the best accounts of family secrets in recent times. Replete with earthy detail, the book is a compelling read; as this brilliant writer turns the spotlight on his own family with painful honesty and devastating candor. Now that I've learned about Mr Bailey's unstable family background I am more admiring than ever of his ability to harness his natural talent and become today's leading biographer.I admire both Mr Bailey and his writing tremendously, even more so after reading his touching family portrait.

  • Gillian Neimark
    2019-04-13 17:42

    Talented writer Blake Bailey purges his personal demons in this memoir centering around his mentally ill, drug-addicted brother. The problem is that the brother is not inherently interesting as a character and his problems might be biological, because they are not driven by abuse or circumstances. So it's not a particularly enlightening read in terms of character development, resilience and redemption. I would have liked to better understand Blake's resilience and his father's impressive steadfastness. The best parts were the early and fascinating depictions of the brothers' tangle of love and rivalry.

  • Mike Judge
    2019-03-23 18:46

    Once I sat down with this book I read it cover to cover. I found it very heart breaking, as well as heart felt. Bailey's biographies of Yates and Cheever are extremely compelling and unblinking, and this memoir of his family is written in the same way. Sadly all of us know (or have in our family) people that have a mental illness like the author's brother, Scott. Bailey's story vividly brings to life how destructive unfettered mental illness can be on a family. This book continues to stay with me and I highly recommend it.

  • Sherri
    2019-04-18 14:37

    Excellent memoir of a dysfunctional family. The author writes of growing up with his deeply disturbed brother and how it effects their already strained family. We never learn the exact diagnosis of his brother - part of his behavior is surely due to his penchant for drugs and alcohol - but this is probably best left unknown. I don't normally write reviews. I don't normally finish books. I finished this one today and wrote this. I started the book yesterday. Great read.

  • Jana
    2019-03-24 16:24

    I picked this up after David Sedaris read an excerpt and recommended it during a reading a few weeks ago. It's candid, brutal, often ugly, and raw - I laughed out loud multiple times, but I also cried more than once and felt hope for the family over and over again. I loved the writing, the skillful storytelling of family skeletons, and how this book still made me want to root for these deeply messed up people.

  • Mary
    2019-04-09 10:46

    As a biographer, Bailey leaves no stone unturned. Application of this same rigor to his own life would have made Bailey's solid, page-turning prose unforgettable. The essential imbalance between telling the reader so much about his brother's alcoholism and so little about himself left me befuddled. But his dialogue and story-telling ability made me hang on until the end. Perhaps in a second memoir, Bailey will reveal himself. I hope so.

  • Cokie
    2019-04-19 16:24

    Stunning. I read this in one sitting. Bailey is an amazing writer--unsparing, unsentimental, fearless. It was all the more riveting because I knew these people--I worked for Bailey's father' law firm. Contrary to what one reviewer said, these were all exceedingly charming people, adept at hiding their pain. The few times I met Scott, he just seemed sweet and sad. I was horrified to learn how bad things actually were, and feel nothing but compassion for any of them.