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The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait Hardcover – March 3, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (March 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393239578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393239577
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Bailey, author of acclaimed biographies of Richard Yates (A Tragic Honesty, 2003), John Cheever (Cheever: A Life, 2009), and Charles Jackson (Farther and Wilder, 2013), 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. As the memoir’s epigraph achingly reminds us, “You can hate a person with all your heart and soul and still long for that person.” --Brendan Driscoll

Review

“Enthralling… Achingly honest… A fearless, deeply felt and often frightening book…[The Splendid Things We Planned] arrives at a certain undeniable truth about how we are capable of feeling love for people we would never choose to be around.” (Dave Itzkoff - New York Times Book Review)

“[A] vivid, tender book [written with] humor and frankness…[and] a novelist's flair… A sleek, dramatic, authentically lurid story fueled by a candid fraternal rivalry.” (Janet Maslin - New York Times)

“Captivating… Bailey maintains a lacerating tone, and examines with the coolness of a detective the staggering things that we can do to the people we love.” (The New Yorker)

“Bailey maintains an almost impossible balance between stringent assessment…and a kind of unflappable empathy… The book is as clear-eyed and heartbreaking as any of his acclaimed biographies…yet every bit as compelling.” (Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe)

“Manages to do justice to the tedium of chronic dysfunction without becoming tedious itself…Compelling because of Bailey's emotional acuity as well as his wit, which emerges as an adaptive coping mechanism—a way to survive despair by streaking it with light.” (Leslie Jamison - San Francisco Chronicle)

“Vibrantly evocative and car-crash engrossing.” (Clark Collis - Entertainment Weekly)

“One of the most surprising and riveting memoirs of the season.” (Trisha Ping - BookPage)

“It seems fitting that biographer Bailey tells the story of his own life by chronicling his brother Scott’s alcoholism and drug addiction… [His] story captures the contradictions and tensions that simmer just below the surface of the family…and Bailey tells it wonderfully, in a tragicomic tone that slowly reveals the true depths to which his older brother has sunk.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A haunting portrait of more than one tortured soul and a heartfelt probing of the limits of brotherly love.” (Brendan Driscoll - Booklist (starred))

“Very entertaining [and] immensely enjoyable—but also profoundly, persuasively sad. Like Mary Karr or David Sedaris, Bailey doesn't try to manufacture an answer to the questions posed by his family's failings.” (Elyse Moody - Elle)

“This fine and haunting memoir touches the spot where family, responsibility, and helplessness converge. It’s not a pretty place, but boy has Blake Bailey made it memorable. The Splendid Things We Planned is as forceful and revealing as any of the author’s excellent biographies, and that’s really saying something.” (David Sedaris)

“A brother’s lament, a hard-won, clear-eyed view of one family’s tortured history, The Splendid Things We Planned is everything we hope for in a modern memoir. Blake Bailey's triumph here is both personal and literary: a beautiful book, rising out of the ruins.” (Dani Shapiro)

“An extraordinary memoir, written with the love and rage of a brother and son, and controlled with the skill of a master biographer.” (Geoff Dyer)

“One of the most sensitive, intelligent and affecting books I’ve read in a long time. The Splendid Things We Planned is the story of an American family, and of two sons whose lives went in very different directions. Though a memoir, it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, reminiscent of the fiction of Bailey’s former subjects Richard Yates and John Cheever in its compassion, its lack of sentimentality and the rich, detailed prose in which it is written.” (Adelle Waldman)

“Blake Bailey’s remarkable memoir…is a reminder that the best books (fiction or otherwise) impart a sense of shared experience, and to read them is to participate in humanity, not retreat from it. … He has also done for [his brother] what he did for John Cheever: He has written a person to life so that others might know him, too.” (Gregg LaGambina - The Onion A.V. Club)

“Splendid … often laugh-out-loud hilarious … [Bailey has] discovered an accessible and smart tragicomic tone for his family’s tale.” (Debra Gwartney - The Oregonian)

More About the Author

Blake Bailey is the author of acclaimed biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson, and he is currently at work on the authorized biography of Philip Roth. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and Francis Parkman Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer and James Tait Black Memorial Prizes. His most recent book is a memoir, "The Splendid Things We Planned," published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2014. He lives in Virginia, where he is the Mina Hohenberg Darden Professor of Creative Writing at Old Dominion University.

Customer Reviews

Once I sat down with this book I read it cover to cover.
Michael J. Judge
A very American story demonstrating how difficult it is to find help for our mentally ill loved ones.
joan maffei
The book is beautifully written and I highly recommend it.
Daniel C. Andrews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By K. Green on March 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This memoir of his own early life, his doomed older brother, his parents' wretched marriage explains a bit why Blake Bailey is able to write such sensitive, unflinching, biographies of Cheever, Jackson, Yeats & co. It does not explain Bailey's gift for writing, his relentless pursuit of the truth, his ability to make me read his books cover to cover and sit up very late. That is another matter completely: it's called talent and it's inexplicable.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Charles stringham on February 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With this memoir Blake Bailey establishes that his writerly gifts are not limited to literary biography. Author of splendid, definitive biographies of Charles Jackson, Richard Yates, and John Cheever, Baily unflinchingly documents the almost unbearable dislocations and tensions that befall what, from a neighborly distance, might look like an ordinary upper middle class American family. This designated "family portrait"--conveyed at the book's onset by a photograph of the smiling Baileys flanked by sentinel St. Bernards--charts the torturous interrelationships between the parents, Marlies and Burck, and their sons, Scott and Blake.

It is not a happy family, and as Tolstoy noted famously in Anna Karenina, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own distinctive way. The principal tension in this story is generated by the evolving antipathy between the author and his increasingly deranged older brother Scott. While there are early signs that Scott is not quite anchored to practical, waking life, he is, at least to outward appearances, a lanky, attractive boy through the onset of adolescence. He progressively becomes a smoker, a pot smoker, an alcoholic and multiple drug addict, a serial car-wrecker, a delusional vagrant, and ultimately an impossible presence in everybody's life.

"Home," Robert Frost wrote, "is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." But Frost was thinking of a flinty old New England hired hand, not Scott Bailey. For the Bailey parents, divorced and relocated in early middle life, taking their elder son in was an invitation to a house fire or worse.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By slcorey on March 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
i purchased this book on a whim after hearing an NPR interview with Blake Bailey. i was so captivated i finished the it the next day. this is the first time I've read his work and while the story was very interesting what i absolutely feel in love with was his writing.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Judge on March 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By SeattleMama on March 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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. If you are drawn to haunting, searingly evocative memoirs, I recommend you order 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?

The silence when he finishes is thunderous and deafening.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Ruhlman on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
As something of a memoir junky (having read this cover to cover, I'm now listening to the audible version, a different equally enthralling experience), I'm compelled to say this ranks with the best, _the_ best (Mary Karr's work, Glass Castle, David Sedaris, Wild, to name a few). It's rare that we actually get artful tragedy in memoir, an attempt, an attempt only, to reconcile apparently meaningless pain (familial, drug addicted, menacing, violent, car-wrecked, prostituted, destitute, imprisoned) endured for years, with true deep love for the one causing it. It's impossible to put Splendid Things into a few words, but this story of a family and its two difficult sons, one who didn't make it and one (the author) who succeeded beyond hopes and expectations, is as concise and moving a tragedy, expertly rendered in memoir, as any I've read (or listened to). Period. Highly recommend.
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