Rated Reads

The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait

by Blake Bailey

Rated: High

This memoir was a harrowing, exhausting experience for me to read. It had to have been a thousand times that for the author and his family to actually live through.

Blake Bailey, our author, who is now a respected biographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist with several awards to his name, turns his lens on his own history, and it’s just plain ugly. His brother, three years older than he, was, quite simply, screwed up. Horrifically so. Scott Bailey drank and took drugs and crashed cars and was often cruel and vulgar to those he loved best. He could be loving, with a sharp sense of humor, but his rough side won out most of the time, even while he was trying to show his love. His family — his younger brother, his attorney father and his German-born mother — gave him chance after chance to improve, and he squandered those chances, blowing them up in people’s faces.

The book is not for the faint of heart. It’s full of vulgarity and LOTS of really bad language and crude references. Mostly, it’s hardest to read if one knows (and loves) a similar character to Scott. It’s painful to watch someone waste their life, blaming the screw-ups entirely on everyone else.

Bailey is a stellar writer, and his story is worth telling, and this book is written with skill. It’s just not something everyone can or should read.

Rated: High. There are too many instances of strong language to count (at least four dozen, maybe five) and plenty of moderate language as well. There are some vulgar and perverted sexual references and just lots of crudeness throughout. It could have been DIRT, but I did read the whole thing.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait
  • by Blake Bailey
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: