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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Splendid Things We planned.
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...
Published 5 months ago by K. Green

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars self indulgent
The purpose of this book is a 'cleansing' of sorts for the author as he attempts to convince the reader and himself -an alcoholic and narcissistic bore- that he is above his more damaged brother.
Published 3 months ago by avid reader


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Splendid Things We planned., March 1, 2014
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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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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars O Brother, Where Art Thou, February 28, 2014
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This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Hardcover)
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. In a grim series of events towards the book's close, the author and his mother purchase a hand gun and deadly ammunition (at Walmart) in case Scott attempts to reenter his mother's house in hopes of celebrating Christmas with her.

The subtext, and a rivetingly interesting one to this reader, is how the author contends with all of this. Bailey, a highly successfull biographer, teacher, and now family man, reveals that his own life trajectory hovered at times perilously close to that of his brother. There were periods of indolence, black-out drinking, and lapses of judgment that could have led to his early demise. He is relentlessly frank about his own youthful selfishness, insecurities and related defenses. While there is no Mommy Dearest (or daddy dearest) agenda at work in his reckoning, I found myself despairing of the emotional wilderness both boys experienced while their father pursued his successful legal career and their mother was preoccupied creating the Oklahoma equivalent of a bohemian salon during the most critical periods of the brothers' boyhood and adolescence.

Bailey finally spares us nothing in this harrowing account of lives tested and lives lost. If there are dark places to go, he goes there, as Donna Tartt and Edward St. Aubyn do in their novels of addiction and abuse. In response to no offense he can imagine, Bailey while still a little boy is beaten nearly senseless, his body ripe with bruises, by his brother in an early emotional outburst. As a young man, when he and his brother are both worse for drink, Blake arises out of a near stupor to find his brother's unwanted tongue in his mouth.

Janet Maslin in her laudatory review in the New York Times puzzlingly called The Splendid Things we Planned a "slender" volume. It is not slender, either in impact or in length. The book has the weight and feel of a gripping novel, and its message--which I half wanted to resist but couldn't--is that there is infinitely more to family life than you ever want to think.

R.A.H.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the splendid . . ., March 6, 2014
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Splendid Read -- 5 Star Rating, March 2, 2014
This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Searingly Evocative Memoir, March 4, 2014
This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, March 3, 2014
By 
Michael Ruhlman (Cleveland Heights, OH USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Memoir Worth the Read, March 2, 2014
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This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Hardcover)
The Splendid Things We Planned is an off-beat, incredibly readable memoir. It will first get you engaged with its side-splitting comedy and then the pathos of the situation in this seemingly average, upper middle class family will grab you, as you watch the older son spin off the rails and indeed break up the family. It is an unvarnished, honest look at what life was like within that family, from the perspective of the younger son. I intend to have my adult children read it because I am curious as to their reactions to our own family life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime, February 28, 2014
This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Hardcover)
This alarming, tender memoir is impossible to put down. The author spares not one family member, including himself from his wounded, probing analysis. Beautifully written, completely engrossing. But don't just take my word for it. The reviews from New York to San Francisco are in universal agreement about this wonderful book. Buy it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly fascinating, suspenseful memoir... a real page turner!, March 1, 2014
By 
Anthony R. Page (Dallas, Texas, USA) - See all my reviews
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Set aside for a moment the fact that Bailey is one of the world's leading literary biographers... this is a great work that fits in another category entirely.

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? Where does one draw the line?

A prospective reader of The Splendid Things we Planned should be prepared to be entranced, engaged, surprised and disturbed--- a must read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars magnificent, March 8, 2014
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This review is from: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Hardcover)
Engrossing, humorous, balanced from first to last. This gripping memoir is Bailey at his finest.
Anyone who has had an embarrassing family member, or been an embarrassment to their family, can relate and relate deeply. I loved this book.
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The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait
The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait by Blake Bailey (Hardcover - March 3, 2014)
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