A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates

 

FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD

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 quiet and not-so-quiet desperation of the American middle class. Classic novels such as Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade are unforgettable portraits of ordinary people who evade the loneliness and boredom of their lives by cultivating romantic self-images, until the inevitable moment when the truth rolls over them. With its depressed housewives, addled businessmen, desperate career girls, and would-be artists, Yates’s America was a panorama of high living, wistful striving, and self-deception.

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“He drank too much, he smoked to much, he was accident-prone, he led an itinerant life, but as a writer he was all in place,” said his friend and publisher Seymour Lawrence. A Tragic Honesty is a masterful evocation of a man who in many ways embodied the struggles of the Great American Writer in the latter half of the twentieth century. The story of Richard Yates here stands as a singular reminder of what the writer must sacrifice for his craft, the devil’s bargain of artistry for happiness, praise for sanity.

 

Praise for A TRAGIC HONESTY: THE LIFE AND WORK OF RICHARD YATES

 

“The arrival of Blake Bailey’s great, perceptive, heartbreaking Yates biography is a landmark event.”

–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

 

“Compulsively readable . . . Indispensable . . . Excellent in itself, it records, with photographic accuracy, where Yates’s obsessively autobiographical fiction originated.”

–John Sutherland, New York Times Book Review

 

“[A] tremendous book . . . It’s a storytelling success that Bailey can turn Yates’s long, slow grind toward obscurity into a fabulous and often hysterical read. . . . Yates rises up as something he never allowed in his fiction: a hero.”

–John Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle

 

“[A] meticulously researched, judicious, and critically perceptive biography . . . Bailey’s version of Yates’s life proves to be its own kind of masterpiece, as gripping as the best of Yates’s novels, and more inspiring than sad.”

–DeWitt Henry, Boston Globe

 

“Yates’s admirers could hardly be without Blake Bailey’s biography . . . which chronicles a sad and self-destructive life, but lets us see that at least some experience was rescued for the writing.”

–James Wood, The Guardian

 

“[Bailey] has written not merely a splendid biography of Yates . . . but one of the most moving and engrossing literary biographies of our times.”

–Carl Rollyson, The New York Sun

 

“Magnificently comprehensive and brilliantly constructed . . . Compelling, funny and vibrant.”

–Paul Connolly, The Times (London)

 

“The literary biography of the year was Blake Bailey’s A Tragic Honesty . . . As a study of personal self-destruction and a fight to write amid the vicissitudes of the ‘literary life,’ it makes for compelling, frequently harrowing reading–even if you’re not a working novelist.”

The Independent

 

“Mr. Bailey keeps it all interesting by tracing the myriad threads that connect Yates’s life and fiction and by writing highly readable prose that at times shines with well-chosen words. . . . His assessments of Yates’s novels are insightful and sympathetic.”

The Wall Street Journal

 

“Superb . . . Blake Bailey’s retelling of Yates’s life is as good a biography of a contemporary writer as I have read.”

–Dan Wakefield, Boston Globe

 

“Thoroughly researched, deftly written, engaging throughout, and will help in the righteous cause of bringing Yates’s work back to an audience.”

Daily Telegraph

 

“A mesmerizing, horrible, beautiful book about a true American tragedy.”

–Nick Johnstone, Uncut