Philip Roth was his favorite subject. What is left for a biographer?


Stopping six years of accumulated research into a man’s life is like coming to a puzzle covering a ballroom floor: terrible, but it hurts to imagine the effort. The research of a writer’s life is a slow work, a mix of shoe-leather reporting and endless archival research. Bailey read most of Roth’s books multiple times – hundreds of hours of labor. “You have to be able to cold-call people, as if you were trying to sell insurance,” Bailey said. “I can socialize, and I can enjoy it, but I’m just as happy as I can’t talk to any other living soul at one time. It’s a good combination for a biographer.”

Bailey’s archaic tendency has resulted in a book that draws attention to the details of Roth’s life: everything from his army service intoxication in the mid-1950s to his devastating marriages with mental illness To struggle. The book is often sympathetic, presenting Roth as a figure who lived a life of equal parts discipline (famous work routines that took the writing out of monk labor as a miracle) and exasperation (he Ava enjoys one try with Gardner and rejects the other) (Jackie Kennedy). We are involved in the writer’s mint of finances, conflict and psychoanalysis. The figure that emerges is a man capable of great kindness, irrational bruising and casual cruelty.

There are not many authors like Bailey in American culture, where literary biography is an anemic tradition. “To the best of one’s knowledge,” Rachel Donadio wrote in the Times Book Review in 2007, There was no biography “for Cormac McCarthy, EL Doctorow, Don Delillo, Tony Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie or John Updike.” Since then, only Updike has been the subject of a major biography. Apart from Bailey and a handful of people – like Roth’s friend Judith Thurman, Issac Dinesen and Colette’s biographers – few Americans do a great job in this genre. In Britain, by contrast, authors such as Claire Tomlin, Dickens biographers; Michael Holroyd, biographer of Shaw; And Woolf’s biographer Hermione Lee is widely praised. The British care about their authors in a great way, and they want to read about their lives. When in 1994, Amis left her agent for a new, flashier one (Andrew Wiley, incidentally), the British tabloids went into the herd. Poet Philip Larkin’s sex life, or lack thereof, was a matter of national concern. In contrast, in the United States, Roth is one of the few writers whose life has stimulated a high level of gossip. (What do you know about the personal life of Jonathan Franzen? Laurie Moore?) We take our writers seriously, which means elevating their work above their lives.

It is not surprising, then, that it would fall on a failed novelist to tell our national literary-biographical story. Born in Oklahoma in 1963, Bailey aspired to an acting career until 16-year-old Matt Dillon went to audition for the film “Tex”, reading “The Great Gatsby”. By the time they arrived, they had decided that “the acting seemed too silly.” (He auditioned.) After graduating from Tulane, Bailey eventually landed a job teaching in middle school in New Orleans. “I was feeling,” Bailey writes in The 2014 memoir, “Great Things We Planned,” “A keen affinity” for Axley, “with his alcoholism, his tasteful interest in sports, his contempt for the world of work – the whole intoxicating teenage affair.”

His first agent, Elizabeth Kaplan, said, “He wanted to be Richard Yates, not write about Richard Yates.” But his only success had been with nonfiction – specifically, a Detective magazine article about how Revlon tycoon Ron Perelman’s wife terrorized his home contractors at the time. “‘Write me a proposal,'” he recalls Kaplan, “” about something you love. ‘What really interested me at the time was Richard Yates. “

In 1999, Bailey found Yates’ middle daughter, Monica, who liked that Bailey was not an academic – she blamed the professors for ignoring her father. He collaborated with Bailey, and received a book deal. As it happened, “Revolutionary Road” was already to be re-released in April 2000, and Bailey’s publisher wanted to benefit from his biography that hoped it would be a Yates revival. Bailey said, “I signed the contract in late January 2001, and I was given until March 15, 2002 to research and write the book.” “For the next 14 months, I spent every waking hour while I was eating or defecating, except for Yates.” “A Sad Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates” was published in July 2003; As Yates stepped out of the grave and wrote into the literary canon, Bailey’s biography was lauded for finding narrative tension in the writing life – including in Yates’s case living alone in poverty, smoking, and typing, which bar Was knocking for The book became a finalist for that year’s National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography. Bailey was a schoolgirl.

After the critic Janet Muslin gave information about Yates’s biography in The Times. Her husband, writer Benjamin Cheever, took Bailey over to dinner and asked if he wanted to write about his father, John. Bailey said yes, and the Shaver biography was published in 2009. Roth, who was about to publish his final novel and the disappointment of finding yet another biographer, read it admirably.



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