Richard Yates

Just when I think I’m never going to discover a new writer again it usually happens that I do. And there is no better feeling, renewing my faith in the world. Such was the case with Richard Yates. I was getting acquainted with a co-worker of mine and, is my wont, was grilling her about literature. It turned out her son had attended Boston University in the early 80’s and had Yates as a teacher, another noteworthy teacher of his being the writer Jayne Anne Phillips. This was the first mention of Richard Yates and when I looked him up in the catalog Eleven Kinds of Loneliness struck my fancy and I was bowled over, initially by “Jody Rolled the Bones” and later much more so by the first story “Doctor Jack O’Lantern.” If Vincent Sabella isn’t one of the greatest characters in American literature I don’t know who is. Every story in the collection is a gem. It reminded me a lot of The Dubliners and, sure enough, when I went back to read reviews that was the overwhelming comparison. While I was at it I checked out Phillips’ Black Tickets and was also very impressed, especially by the haunting story “Gemcrack.” I bought both books and then went on to other things, re-reading them every so often. Then, in the 90’s, I was searching in the Fiction Catalog for fiction dealing with the subject of marriage (particularly bad ones) and came across Yates’ Revolutionary Road, which I immediately read, and bought a copy for myself because I knew I’d read it again. Imagine my surprise when, over a decade later, I read that a movie was being made based on the novel. While I know ahead of time the movie can never be as good as a great book, I had to see it for myself, excited that it was even being made. It was a disappointment of course as it could never portray the psychological nuances that were an integral part of the narrative, so it seemed a series of disjointed episodes with barely any coherence. I was glad I went and very glad they made the attempt because it gained Yates many readers, something he never had during his lifetime. An interesting (or not) sidenote was that Yates’ daughter went out with Larry David and Elaine Benes’ character was loosely based on her; in addition the Seinfeld episode “The Jacket” was based on David’s first meeting with the writer/father, just as Elaine’s father, Alton Benes’ character, was inspired by Richard Yates. In all Yates wrote 10 books (7 novels and 3 short story collections) and you can’t go wrong with any of them, although I recommend you begin as I did with Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, then Revolutionary Road, and finally, The Easter Parade.

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One thought on “Richard Yates”

  1. Thanks for reminding us of the greatness of Richard Yates. You caused me to revisit a favorite story of his, “Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired.” Reading Richard Russo’s introduction to the Collected Stories, I learned that there was a “sequel” to that story, “Regards at Home.”

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