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A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates
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A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates

4.43  ·  Rating Details  ·  359 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
Celebrated in his prime, forgotten in his final years, only to be championed anew by our greatest contemporary authors, Richard Yates has always exposed readers to the unsettling hypocrisies of our modern age. In Blake Bailey's masterful and entertaining biography, Yates himself serves as the fascinating lens into mid-century America, a world of would-be artists, depressed ...more
Paperback, 688 pages
Published May 1st 2004 by Picador (first published May 1st 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,219)
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May 18, 2009 Leslie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: trainwrecks
Richard Yates was a self-loathing, bipolar, impotent, alcoholic hot mess who could write like nobody's business. I think I'm in love.
Feb 24, 2009 Kirk rated it really liked it
In retrospect this may not have been the ideal book to read immediately on the heels of Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr. Long about page 300 I found myself wondering if there was ever such a thing as a happy biography of a writer, one that doesn't go gonads-deep into ego, depression, bitterness, etc etc. Of course, there's no drama in being well-adjusted (or so I'm told). I was struck reading this life story alongside a new article in Poets and Writers that basica ...more
Hannah  Messler
Jul 05, 2008 Hannah Messler rated it it was amazing
Oh, what a good and awful book. It was like reading one of Yates's own novels, so sweet and good and misguided and horrible and sad and inevitable. Purrr. Made me re-pick up Revolutionary Road. Which is even fucking stunning-er on a second go-round, if that's believable. Lord, what a darling.
Aug 20, 2010 Brad rated it it was amazing
I thought Richard Yates's novels were depressing and gut-wrenching enough, but the story of his life is more so. I fell in love with Richard Yates's writing when I read Revolutionary Road. I proclaimed him my favorite author when I continued on to his other novels. Reading the story of his proud, stubborn, brilliant man made me love him and his commitment to his art even more. Blake Bailey engaged me as a reader the way most biographers can't. Yates came to life and I watched the horror show of ...more
Jun 27, 2007 Jeff rated it it was amazing
Partying on holidays is pretty crucial for me. Christmas night after spending all day with the unchosen family. Another birthday without a chosen family. A fifth on Decoration Day. That's why it was completely moronic that I began reading this biography of beloved author Richard Yates at 9:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve. "Oh, I'll just read a few pages of whatever I'm into at the time--like I always do before going out--to, you know, get me in that proper state of misanthrope-y and self-loathing, or ...more
May 30, 2011 Tajma rated it it was amazing
As a lover of Yates, I read this book in less than a week. There are few things sadder than a great writer who remains underrated through the majority of his career, especially when he so desperately desires recognition. The last chapter indeed brought tears to my eyes. This is a must read for any true Yates fan. I cannot wait to read Blake Bailey's next biography.
M. Sarki
Sep 02, 2014 M. Sarki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to M. by: good writers of
I really did not think this book was going to grab me the way it did based on the first two hundred pages, but grab me it did. I will tell you why here:
Ronald Wise
Aug 20, 2011 Ronald Wise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my first introduction to both author Blake Bailey, and the subject of this biography, novelist Richard Yates. Thanks to Bailey's thorough and meticulous research, and what appears to be an objective treatment of his material, I now feel I know as much about Robert Yates as there is to know. Maybe it’s putting the cart before the horse, but now I hope to enjoy reading the books written by Yates as much as I enjoyed reading about the story behind their creation.

I’ve always found it intrig
Ryan Blacketter
May 22, 2014 Ryan Blacketter rated it liked it
Shelves: reviews
Overall, A Tragic Honesty is an engrossing page-turner. However, although the book is occasionally warm, it's too often frigid. Bailey seems overly flip in exposing the man's failures--literary, marital, social, mental, sexual. He tells us he was impotent, drunken, filthy, raging, but without the tenderness of a biographer who cares for his subject. He admits that he suffered from manic-depressive disorder, but steps in frequently to inform the reader of his personal disappointment with Yates' b ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Jesse rated it really liked it
bailey is a great biographer, and i would recommend this to anyone who's read richard yates and is interested in seeing how his life, in many ways, resembled his fiction. however, this story is familiar: the tragic addictions, and massive egoism of a great writer: the broken marriages, and empty promises. it seems american literature can't produce top notch writers without then having them slowly (or quickly and violently in some cases) self-destruct. but as bailey points out toward the end of t ...more
Kayla Perry
Jan 23, 2016 Kayla Perry rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This was a hard book to read because I love Richard Yates as a writer and I now kind of despise him as a person. Though he was no doubt a product of his times, it was disappointing to find out what an emotionally abusive misogynist he was, often dismissing women for the most arbitrary of things (Pregnancy, really? And of course, he hates fat women, surprise, surprise). Though he would hardly be the first author to use people in his fiction, I didn't realize to what extent his material was autobi ...more
Jun 23, 2014 Gabriella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant biography. Even better than the Cheever bio, which I didn't think was possible.

Yates, the author of Revolutionary Road, was a damaged man who produced beautiful, bleak books while he indulged his addictions and was in and out of mental hospitals due to his frequent mental breakdowns. As described by Bailey, he may have had one of the worst lives of any of the great writers. Despite influential friendships, supportive publishers, and winning grants and awards, he lived in horrible, sq
Jun 13, 2007 Katherine rated it it was amazing
What I love about this book is that it is a very upfront biography of one of my favorite and most underappreciated authors in American Literature.

He did have a tragic life, but what Yates left behind was really worthwhile and wonderful. I recommend reading this and then following it with some of his short stories or a novel.
Feb 23, 2015 Holly added it
Richard Yates is not widely read, but his ability to portray the little tragedies of our lives is devastating.
After reading several of his novels, I wanted to learn more about the man.
Yates was from the hard drinking, chain smoking generation that came of age during the Second World War.
It's painful to have the details spelled out, but Yates unflinchingly drew on many sordid events in his life for his stories.
He'd write those things and then drink steadily for several months.
I valued this b
Jun 18, 2012 Meghan rated it it was amazing
So intriguing. It sheds a lot of light on his work and it's one of the best biographies I've read. I read this months ago and I'm still thinking about it!
Victoria Patterson
Sep 05, 2008 Victoria Patterson rated it it was amazing
I'm glad I finished it. So tragic and awful. But a fascinating read. Yates was never published by The New Yorker--what idiots not to publish his stories.
Jan 08, 2008 Amie rated it it was amazing
I like this. I like Richard Yates. I like Blake Bailey. I can't add anymore books right now.
Ryan Williams
Apr 03, 2015 Ryan Williams rated it really liked it
For me, this was always going to be a match made in heaven. I read and re-read Bailey's biography of John Cheever, and thought Yates wrote one of 20th Century America's best novels in Revolutionary Road. It has been gratifying to see Yates' other books reprinted, flourishing; as part of the Vintage classics line, no less.

This is an informative read, but never degenerates into hagiography. Perhaps it's a measure of how much it grabbed me that, on reading Roger Angell's tactless response to Yates'
Jan 19, 2016 Jon added it
Compulsively readable--though I felt slightly guilty about delving into Yates' messy life, I still couldn't put down this portrait of the artist in self-destruct mode. Among the hundreds of wretchedly wacky anecdotes: Yates was picked up in LA by cops once & told them he was Jesus and Lee Harvey Oswald. A victim of the Roman Empire and a victim of the American Empire, how apropos. Bailey has an occasional lapse--a reference to "a book called ON BEING HUMAN" is obviously meant to refer to Car ...more
Mike Ingram
Mar 01, 2011 Mike Ingram rated it it was amazing
Just to get the obvious out of the way first: this is not a feel-good story, in any way. Richard Yates's life was deeply depressing, and Bailey doesn't try to sugarcoat it. But he also elects not to wallow around in it, or paint it as melodrama. The book just seems honest--about Yates's life and his work. Like Bailey's Cheever biography, it's really well-written and well-considered, in that Bailey resists easy characterizations or easy answers, and instead really wrestles to understand his subje ...more
Jun 25, 2008 Eric rated it liked it
Shelves: criticism, americans
'There never was a good biography of a good novelist,'Fitzgerald says somewhere in his notebooks. 'How could there? He's too many people, if he's any good.' Fitzgerald has yet to be proven wrong, but at least this wasn't a sour, hectoring dressing-down of its subject. Bailey himself said that he aimed for an bemused, ironical tone, a tone that seems a perfect vehicle for Yates's own gruffly hilarious remarks and letters. The story ain't pretty--mental illness mixed with alcoholism mixed with div ...more
Mar 05, 2009 Paula added it
Finally finished this, one of the longer books I've read (600+ pages) in a while, it cost me $2.50 in library fines (ten cents a day), what a deal. It was amazingly compelling, given that it's pretty much an endless litany of one setback after another, personal and professional, soaked in alcohol and stained with nicotine, with a staggering amount of prescription drug abuse tossed in. I kept hoping that somehow Yates would find a way to turn the ship around, but it didn't happen. Yates didn't gi ...more
Aaron Miller
Apr 11, 2014 Aaron Miller rated it it was amazing
yates is one of my favorite authors, and i'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys his work and has thought about it enough to want to know more about him. i feel that the book is an earnest tribute to yates' life and work.
Oct 04, 2009 Steph rated it it was amazing
I feel like I have to rate it 5 stars, since it provides so much insight into the author of one of my all-time favorite novels (Revolutionary Road). I think it is well-written, and Bailey's story of Yates is tragic and honest as the title states, and his storytelling seems to reflect Yates's own work. As Richard Yates is a relatively unknown author whose work I believe deserves the "classic" status, this book proves to be a wonderful resource. I suspect that this book may very well be among the ...more
Teresa Lepore
Mar 22, 2014 Teresa Lepore rated it really liked it
new obsession reading Blake Baliley's biographies of brilliant, tragic writers
Sep 13, 2014 Shawn rated it it was amazing
Like Bailey's biography of Cheever, this brilliant -- literary biography at its best. Like Yates's fiction, it can be a bleak journey, but it's worth the effort for any reader interested in postwar American fiction. Cannot recommend highly enough.
Oct 10, 2014 Poy added it
Jul 29, 2011 Brett rated it really liked it
What a heart breaking story. Poor guy resigned to himself, died of his own ego, a sweetheart to his daughters. Never wanted to do anything but write. I'm way behind on reviewing stuff but if you like great writing and reading about the lives of those who do it. This one is a must. On a side note Yates hated Faulkner and I gotta agree. Sound and the Fury was unintelligible gibberish. For God's sake dude just spit it out what in the hell are you trying to say? but i digress... Yates, awesome.
May 30, 2012 Tim is currently reading it
This book is about my favorite author, Richard Yates. Yates was a brilliant and complicated man who smoked and drank to excess, and suffered from depression. Like so many artists, he was under appreciated in his time, and it was only near the end of his life, and after his passing, that he received the acclaim he so richly deserved. So far, this book is everything I expected it would be.
Jun 24, 2010 Alice rated it really liked it
Because Blake Bailey is such a good writer, I followed his book about John Cheever with his first book about Richard Yates. Although that book, too, gives more personal information than you might ever want to know, it is also very interesting how their personal lives are so well integrated into their fiction.
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Blake Bailey is the author of biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson, and he is at work on the authorized biography of Philip Roth. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize; and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. H ...more
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“Vevers remarked on what struck them as Yates's peculiar attitude toward women: 'He expected them to drink a lot and be beautiful all the time.” 2 likes
“But what ultimately made Yates the scourge of copy editors was his simple aversion to criticism; any emendation in his manuscript, be it a single semicolon, would cause dark alcoholic brooding, which would finally erupt in long, hectoring, semicoherent phone calls.” 1 likes
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