Daniel Williams

Posts Tagged ‘Richard Yates’

Favourite Reads of 2011

In American, English, Japanese, Literature, Miscellaneous, Russian on 26/12/2011 at 14:11

Presented- a list of the books I most enjoyed this past year. Circumstances gave me a chance to read more than ever this year. My selection is personal opinion and includes novels, short story collections and non-fiction.

Ray Bradbury- Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky- The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Bob Dylan- Chronicles, Volume One (2004)

Jennifer Egan- A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010)

F. Scott Fitzgerald- The Beautiful and Damned (1922); The Great Gatsby (1925); This Side of Paradise (1920)

Ernest Hemingway- In Our Time (1925)

Carson McCullers- The Heart is a Lonley Hunter (1940)

Yukio Mishima- Death in Midsummer and other stories (1966); Thirst For Love (1950); The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea (1963); Spring Snow (1966)

J.D. Salinger- Franny & Zooey (1961)

John Updike- Your Lover Just Called (1980)

Kurt Vonnegut- Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

Steve Waters- The Secret Life of Plays (2010)

Richard Yates- A Special Providence (1969); The Easter Parade (1976); Young Hearts Crying (1984)

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Thoughts On Richard Yates

In American, Essay, Literature, Writing on 10/08/2011 at 12:51

Nobody writes about dreamers quite like Richard Yates. His characters are caught up in their dreams so much and never quite achieve them, this can make his novels very depressing reads. Revolutionary Road (1961) is full to the brim of unfilled ambitions and dreams that never work. Frank and April Wheeler are hard characters to like, as are many of Yates’ characters. Yates makes the reader fully aware of the tics, neurosis and flaws that will make them unable to realise their dreams. It can be hard to sympathise with these characters but Yates really makes a reader empathise with them through the structure of his work. His novels have been criticized as episodic, but I like the episodic nature of his work and it really shows how these characters live- we see the characters through decades and how an action in Chapter One reverberates and echoes again in later chapters when the characters are at a different station in their life.

There is a quote I read by C.S. Lewis I saw a few days ago and thought it relatable to Yates. Lewis writes that ‘To be concerned with been grown-up, to admire the grown-up because it is grown-up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.’ His characters often are very concerned about been grown-up, and find themselves admiring the more successful of their peers. In a great short story from Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962) a child finds that whilst playing cowboys and Indians it’s more fun to lose and be the one who gets shot, then the story skips forward to the boy as an adult as he loses his job and has to spend weeks pretending to his wife that he is still employed.

Yates writes of people whose ambitions outweigh their talent, of ones who dream of success without wanting to put effort into achieving it. A lot of Yates’ dreamers dream of been artists- writers, painters, sculptors, etc. And those that are artists are often without merit, like Michael Davenport in (probably my favourite Yates’ novel) Young Hearts Crying (1984), he refuses his heiress wife’s offer to support him so he can focus on his poetry, because he wants artistic success on his own terms. This novel is probably my favourite because its characters are either aspiring or professional artists, writers and actors. These characters reflect people I have known through doing a Creative Writing course. I’m not very familiar with all the biographical details about Richard Yates’ life, but I do know he taught Writing at several universities during his life, so I can’t say for certain he drew on his former students for this novel, but I know I certainly recognise people from my course in that novel- people whose ambitions really do outweigh any kind of talent.

I think what draws me back as a reader to Yates’ novels is, despite the unsympathetic characters, that there is a truth in them. I often see a reflection of people I know, have known and myself in them. I’m surprised to find the characters of Yates dream as big and as often as I do. Sometimes the reflection I see of myself in his characters is an uncomfortable one. I do see a truth in what I read of Yates, of people who moan about been in a nine-to-five world, but never take any chance to break out from it. The person who introduced me to Yates turned out to be very much like a Yates’ character, very much like the younger Grimes sister in The Easter Parade (1976).

Yates only published nine books during his lifetime. I’ve read six and a half of them. There has been, so far, only one I haven’t liked. He is one of my favourite novelists. I find his prose wonderfully straightforward and quietly engaging. But, sometimes, I’ve felt very miserable at the end of his novels- I wouldn’t describe them as humourless, but sometimes they are very much hopeless.

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