The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait

Norton. Mar. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780393239577. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393242881. LIT
OrangeReviewStarThe Bailey family—Burck, a New York University-trained lawyer who's named "Citizen of the Year" in Vinita, OK; his wife, Marlies, a young German immigrant drawn to the bright lights and energy of New York in the early 1960s; and two sons, Scott and Blake—live the American dream, observes former Guggenheim Fellow, National Book Critics Circle Award winner, and Pulitzer Prize finalist Bailey (Mina Hohenberg Darden Professor, creative writing; Old Dominion Univ.; A Tragic Honesty; Cheever). Or so it seems. But Scott—handsome, impetuous, and selfish—allows his demons to take over. Physically and psychologically diminished, the ex-marine returns home for one last attempt at salvaging the remains of his chaotic and sometimes felonious life. The younger Bailey recalls those dark days, shortly before his brother's last stint in prison and his suicide in 2003 at age 43. Bailey's memoir is a more genteel, though no less accomplished, update of Harry Crews's A Childhood, with details layered in an unflinching fusillade until a poignant, maddening portrait of Scott—and the rest of the Baileys, seen through the lens of Scott's descent—takes shape. The effect of the writing and Bailey's own wrestling with time, memory, and loss lingers after the final passages.
VERDICT For readers of memoir and literary nonfiction, this should make end-of-the-year lists.
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