Author of acclaimed biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates, Bailey makes a rather surprising case for the resurrection of this deeply prescient and problematic novelist, who broke open taboos about alcoholics and homosexuals well before it was cool and championed F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was in the process of being remaindered.
Charles Jackson (1903–1968) was the author of an unlikely best-seller, The Lost Weekend (1944), which was rendered into a tremendous film noir by Billy Wilder the next year. He rode moments of spectacular success in his early life and many more troughs of despair and drug addiction later on. Bailey traces his early upbringing in the idyllic village of Newark, in upstate New York, an iconic Arcadia in his fiction, where he nonetheless suffered the early traumas of his older sister and brother’s deaths in a car accident, abandonment by his father and molestation at the hands of a visiting organist at his church. Bailey gets at the compulsive element to Jackson’s personality and his decorous exterior as a “respectable burgher,” disguising his proclivity for excessive drink and gay sex. Yet he was always a man of high Shakespearean ideals and deep feeling who was vilified and embraced in turn. Although sober for a good decade, during which he produced his best, most feverish work, and a husband and father of two daughters living for a spell as a kind of writerly squire in New Hampshire, he succumbed to abuse of barbiturates as a result of recurring lung issues, and his last works—e.g., A Second-Hand Life—were committed to oblivion. Bailey urges a revisiting of the work of this fascinating novelist of keen psychological depth.
Eloquent, poignant portrait of the artist as outsider and misfit.