Richard Yates – One of My Favorite Fiction Writers of the 20th Century

Richard Yates

Born:  February 3, 1926     Died:  November 7, 1992

If you don’t go for realism or portrayals of life as it actually is lived in fiction, you might as well just skip Richard Yates. However I, on the other hand, devoured all of Yates’ works.

If you still want to read Richard Yates, where should you begin? The short stories are spectacular achievements of poignant realism, perhaps the best since Anton Chekhov. The titles of Yates’ two short story collections, ‘Eleven Kinds of Loneliness’ and ‘Liars in Love’, are a good indication of his human subject matter. As for the novels, I would start with ‘The Easter Parade’ even before his most acclaimed work, ‘Revolutionary Road’. I have found no other author who could make me feel the same degree of empathy as Richard Yates does for the two sisters portrayed in ‘The Easter Parade’.

“There were worse things in the world than being alone. She told herself that every day.”

Perhaps this is why I read fiction, to gain insight into the human predicament. Not sympathy mind you, but empathy.

Anothe fine novel by Yates is ‘A Good School’. But, nearly all of Yates’ novels are excellent acute protrayals of their characters, even his two lesser works (in my opinion), ‘A Special Providence’ and ‘Young Hearts Crying’.

Perhaps the most striking quality of Yates is the clearness and lucidity of his prose. From this directness comes his ability to write scenes that resonate with and emotionally move readers.

Blake Bailey wrote a massive biography of Richard Yates which seems to chronicle every little detail of Yates’ sad life called ‘A Tragic Honesty’. Yes, Richard Yates did have a tragic post-World-War-II life. Plagued by TB at a young age, too much alcohol, too many cigarettes, ten nervous breakdowns, always too little money, divorces, too many short-term girlfriends. One time he accidentally almost killed himself by starting his apartment on fire with a cigarette and after that was confined to the psych ward at Bellevue Hospital for a few months. He was too meticulous in his writing method to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter, spending sometimes hours searching for exactly the right word. He had to watch as writers with less talent than he got the awards, the acclaim, and the book sales.

I’m only interested in stories that are about the crushing of the human heart.” ― Richard Yates

Richard Yates’ life might be considered a failure except for his fiction which fortunately is still here for us to read. The one thing Richard Yates could do was capture life on the page. During his life, he was known as a writers’ writer, admired by his fellow writers if not be the book-buying public.

Here is more than fine writing; here is what, added to fine writing, makes a book come immediately, intensely and brilliantly alive. If more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don’t know what it is.” – Tennessee Williams on Revolutionary Road.

I love Richard Yates, his work, and the novel ‘Revolutionary Road’. It’s a devastating novel.” – Michael Chabon

2 responses to this post.

  1. This is a nice reminder that I need to read more of his work. I adored The Easter Parade when I read it at least a decade ago. Earlier this year I read Cold Spring Harbour and loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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