Drunk and Disorderly
Farther and Wilder:
The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson
by Blake Bailey
$30.00 List Price
Charles Jackson barely ever wrote a piece of fiction. The vast majority of his output—five novels or collections in the decade beginning 1944, and one final novel fourteen years later (“99 percent of this novel is lubricious trash,” read the Kirkus review)—was thinly disguised fact. His first, and by far his best-known, work was The Lost Weekend; it was essentially his homosexual alcoholic’s diary artfully made fiction. It made headlines for its depiction of alcoholism; the homosexual component got far less attention, likely because of the distorted Freudian fever gripping the nation, in which alcoholism and homosexuality (or “latent homosexuality”) were considered similar and interlocking manifestations of immaturity. After that one success, desperate for more attention and more money, Jackson coughed up lurid stories as often as he could write or dictate them. Most of them failed, because the fiction was too unbelievable, despite its accuracy—or else it was too poorly executed.
In retrospect, though, it’s hard not to think he was simply ahead of his time. Jackson would have been the most cherished writer of the 1970s or ’80s. He could have been in the vanguard of the era when that script was flipped, when we started publishing glossy first-person fiction as fact.
An insanely stuffed biography, Blake Bailey’s Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson (Knopf, $30) identifies just how much of Jackson’s work was drawn from life—and just how ugly it all was on the inside. Bailey’s comprehensiveness of research is harrowing, and the few