Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson

Knopf. Mar. 2013. 496p. photogs. notes. index. ISBN 9780307273581. $30. LIT
Charles Jackson's novel The Lost Weekend was the basis of the 1945 Academy Award-winning film of the same name that also earned Academy Awards for actor Ray Milland and director Billy Wilder. Bailey (Cheever: A Life), recently named as Philip Roth's authorized biographer, provides here a richly detailed, well-documented look at Jackson's troubled life, from his traumatic childhood in Arcadia, NY, to his suicide in the Chelsea Hotel in 1968. Jackson is portrayed as living a "double life"; he was a happily married family man on the one hand, but on the other hand was also drawn to clandestine homosexual encounters. Bailey chronicles Jackson's bouts with tuberculosis, his lifelong struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, his work with Alcoholics Anonymous, and his excursions into radio, television, and Hollywood to earn a living. Jackson resented having to do "hack work," which he blamed for his failure to complete more creative projects. Yet his creative juices seemed to flow freely only on barbiturates, which, over time, took their toll.
VERDICT Bailey's absorbing biography will interest literary scholars as well as general readers, particularly those drawn to pathography. In conjunction with Vintage's reissue of The Lost Weekend as well as The Sunnier Side, a collection of Jackson's stories, this promises to generate fresh interest in his work.
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