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This is a difficult book to rate - it is written extremely well, but does not provide the same satisfaction of most masterfully-written memoirs, which shed light on the author's development as a result of what they experience in the memoir. This book is just a very honest, well-written portrayal of Bailey's brother's 30+ year descent into mental illness, and the daily assault on the family as a result. Nobody gets better, and we don't see any development of any of the family members as a result of the unrolling of the brother's life. In the end, I was just depressed and numb - I suppose reflecting how the family felt - but it is not why we read books, and if I were someone experiencing similar circumstances, there would be no help here for me.
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Blake Bailey tells the story of his own fractured, but initially picture-perfect, family with brutal honesty and a humility that draws the reader/listener in, brings from them identification and empathy, and also can make one's hearts break or instantly make anger arise. The story is fantasitically woven, and stands out as yet another example of how the absentee, disengaged upper-middle class parents of the 1960s and 1970s created a culture of children who were often battling undiagnosed mental illness and learning problems, but left to their own devices when it came to navigating life. The portrait of the Baileys perfectly shows how the fruits of self-absorption as parents led both not just the Baileys, but thousands of others like them, to spend the next 20 years wondering why their children battled addiction, were unproductive by social norms, or dead before their time. Heartbreaking and engaging, this story is a must-read.