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ODU Prof Blake Bailey Scores Another Critical Hit with New Memoir

Photo of Blake BaileyBlake Bailey “The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait.” By Blake Bailey

Old Dominion University professor Blake Bailey has made a critically acclaimed name for himself documenting the often-turbulent lives of literary greats Charles Jackson, John Cheever and Richard Yates. In his latest effort, Bailey turns an adept biographer's eye inward on his own troubled family, a memoir The New York Times calls a "vivid, tender book."

"The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait" is Bailey's fifth book. It follows highly regarded biographies of Jackson, "Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson," in 2013; Cheever, "Cheever: A Life," in 2009; and Yates, "A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates," in 2003.

Bailey is the Mina Hohenberg Professor of Creative Writing at ODU.

In 2010, he won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Bailey has also been lauded as "addictively readable" by The New York Times and recognized by Time magazine for writing "compellingly and in harrowing detail." Bailey made national literary news in 2012 when it was announced he signed a collaboration agreement with Philip Roth to write a biography of the celebrated author, who is often characterized as the greatest living American writer.

Bailey started his memoir 11 years ago when he was between books.

"Obviously it took a long time, he said. "I also worked on a couple of hefty literary biographies, for one thing, but also a memoir is just a very different, and in many ways more challenging, kind of book. It took me at least that long to free my family from the various myths I'd attached to them over the years. Not a process I'd necessarily recommend, though I'm happy with the final product."

W.W. Norton and Co. is publishing "The Splendid Things We Planned," which is scheduled for release March 3.

According to the publisher, Bailey's memoir 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."

The New York Times review notes that Blake uses "a surprising degree of humor and frankness" in the memoir while describing some of the most humiliating moments of his life.

"Blake is freed from the biographer's burden of fleshing out his story with layers of fact and detail. This is a slender book, one that relies only on memory and acknowledges memory's weakness, especially when alcoholism is involved. And however painful the process of putting it together might have been, he gives it a novelist's flair," writes Janet Maslin. "This narrative begins slowly, but it quickly picks up steam and becomes a sleek, dramatic, authentically lurid story fueled by candid fraternal rivalry. However aghast and pained he is at the mounting calamities in his brother's life, there is a part of him that not so secretly reveled in being the survivor."

Bailey will read from "The Splendid Things We Planned" on April 10 at Prince Books, in Norfolk. The event starts at 7 p.m.

To read the full review, visit the New York Times Books page.

For more information about the author, including a link to a published excerpt from "The Splendid Things We planned," visit Blake Bailey's website.