Blake Bailey can’t look at one distinct Oklahoma City high-rise without thinking about his brother, Scott. As a young man, Scott was arrested for disturbing the peace after he was caught dangling from a horizontal flagpole at the top of the office tower.
“That is precisely and invariably what I associate with 50 Penn Place,” Bailey said during a recent telephone interview with Oklahoma Gazette.
That and many other stories of Scott’s mischief are the basis for Bailey’s new memoir, The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait, published this month by W.W. Norton & Company Inc. The book also explores the Bailey family’s tumultuous existence over nearly 50 years in Oklahoma City.
Bailey, who now lives in Virginia, where he writes and teaches, will return to 50 Penn Place for a reading and book signing March 12 at Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expressway.
The author made a name for himself as a literary biographer with acclaimed books about Richard Yates, John Cheever and Charles Jackson. He earned a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on the biography of Cheever, won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
In his first book outside of the literary biography realm, he has turned the biographer’s lens on his upbringing, with a focus on his brother who sometimes was brash and boozy, and other times loving and charismatic.
At times both humorous and tragic, the tales are about growing up in an affluent home, family disfunction, divorce and both his and Scott’s problems with drugs and alcohol.
The author holds no punches when tallying the shortcomings of his brother, parents, stepmother, step-siblings and himself.
“I don’t see the point of writing this kind of a book if you’re not going to be completely honest,” he said. “I think I’ve been pretty objective and fair.”
Bailey is at work on a biography of novelist Philip Roth. He makes the trip back to OKC about twice a year to see his mother, who still lives here.