Eric's Reviews > A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates

A Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey
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's review
Apr 17, 2008

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bookshelves: 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 divorces--but who gives a shit? The work--the little of it that I've read--is lucid and luminous and wise. For decades, the typical Yates apartment was a squalid hole barren save for his typewriter, nailed-up pictures of his daughters, and his obsessive devotion to being the best writer he could be. The high point of this book is the excerpt from the memorial speech Andre Dubus read at one of the memorial services. Referring the Yates books on his shelf, Dubus says, "it's a sweetheart of a life's work, a sweetheart."

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