Hello there. It’s Richard Yates’ birthday today. Bring out the booze. Anyhoo, the following is a love letter to him, wherever he may be. Also, I blab about his novel, Young Hearts Crying. And be warned, for there be little spoilers, haha. Sorry!
Dear Richard Yates,
I made sure to finish reading your novel Young Hearts Crying in time for your birthday. It’s now the February 3, and dude, if you were alive, you’d have been 84. 84, man, ain’t that swell? Anyway. Happy happy happy birthday to you. I hope you’re having a grand ol’ time wherever you are. You deserve it. I mean, you kinda had a sad life, and there was that terrifying period when no one was stocking your books, although no one could deny what a kick-ass writer you were—only unknown, and on the precipice of being forgotten.
But that’s all in the past. I mean, you’re being read now. And I love you. You oughta know. [I’ve read three of your books—Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Liars in Love, and, of course, Revolutionary Road, and damn, I think I have a crush on your skillz.] It’s nice to return to you.
Young Hearts Crying is your second-to-the-last novel (1984), and there are echoes of your usual subjects. Michael and Lucy Davenport are two intelligent people, with quite a lot of flaws. We witness their whirlwind (whirlwind in its nothing happens one moment, it’s WTF the next) courtship, their marriage, the disintegration of said marriage, the lives they lead after. It’s after the war, so there’s that whole post-war-disillusionment (or misplaced illusions?) thing going on. Michael wants to be a poet-playwright, and Lucy–well, Lucy is a rich girl who doesn’t really pin her ambitions on anything; she just wants to be something else [a stint in a writing class, and then taking up painting–she notes a scene she thinks she could write about, but then reminds herself that she isn’t a writer any longer. Girl’s ambitions are in phases, for cripe’s sake.] Michael and Lucy are so full of wanting and yearning, but a) they’re unaware of what exactly it is they want/yearn for; b) they don’t know how to go about it getting whatever that is; c) they’re constantly coming up against roles and their standing in society, their reputation, the glamorous artsy lives they imagine for their friends and peers.
That’s one of the things that struck me about this novel, Mr. Yates. Besides all the wanting and yearning–which I’ll get to later–Michael and Lucy are so engrossed in ideas of non-comformity and reputation. Michael absolutely scorns conformity, he can go on and on about it–but he’s so swept up in it. That is, instead of just doing his own poet-playwright stint in their happy little cottage, he refuses to give up his job–because that’s what men do, apparently. Never mind that Lucy is a “millionairess.” There’s so much in Michael that’s dedicated to analyzing what people are thinking about him, about the Davenports. He’s constantly pointing out traits and flaws of his more successful friends, when we all know he wants nothing more to be like them. I mean, hello dramatic irony. And Lucy. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy. Confused Lucy, bereft Lucy, forsaken Lucy, you-have-four-million-dollars-and-you-can’t-freaking-figure-out-what-to-do-?! Lucy. I like Lucy. She’s all over the place.
I am loving the depth of the secondary characters. How unassuming Thomas Nelson is, and how the Davenports are so wounded by this fact. The shiny-ness (can’t think of another word) of Paul Maitland, and how the Davenports are continually dazzled by this, even though they know they should know better. There’s the string of lovers for both Davenports, and I very much enjoyed playing voyeur to these affairs. Although, as usual, you seem to forget the existence of your couple’s child, Laura. Why do you do that? I mean, at first it’s admirable that you not talk about the kid at all–you meant to focus on the couple–but sometimes I think why you bothered about Laura. I do appreciate what Laura brings to the dynamics–that part where she has conversations with her imaginary sister was just damned awesome.
And you know what I noticed? Your form. I see you busting out the technique. It’s so subtle, I’d missed it until I was two-thirds of the way through. Part I, it’s mostly Michael’s POV–until Lucy speaks up at the end (and she speaks up within the story, and in the novel, ya see?). Part II is pretty much Laura’s life. Part III, we return to Michael and Lucy. It’s all so organic. [In Revolutionary Road, I was conscious of the fact that it’s pretty much Frank Wheeler all the way–right up until that pivotal chapter, where we get into April’s head, that chapter where it’s of the absolute importance to get into April’s head.] I also noticed that the chapters work as short stories, especially in Lucy’s case. They’re so episodic, but you make ’em seamless. It gives the dork in me goosebumps. My favorite’s Part II, Chapter 2: the one with Jack Halloran. That made me wistful.
Your language gives me goosebumps too. It’s your usual straightforward style, and that just leaves so much room for depth, you know? It’s amazing. And you’re actually writing love scenes! Hah! That made me giggle. I love that you wrote them in Lucy’s stories–the scenes with her lovers, they’re so heartfelt, a little naive and heart-wrenching because of that.
Another thing, you sly badger you–despite the ambiguities of that ending, I do believe it’s happy. Oh, baby pandas are weeping at the thought, Mr. Yates! Confetti for you! Richard Yates and a happy ending, imagine that. Then again, I might just be projecting, haha. Like Lucy said, “How could you ever learn to trust the things you made up?”
So. I love Young Hearts Crying, although I am already Swimfan-crazy about you, so that may not come as a surprise to anyone. Still. I don’t know when I’ll get to read any of your other books, and that makes me sad. But, well, it’s always nice spending a couple of days with you, in your world. I’m so happy you’re part of my life now, haha.
Lastly, I apologize for sounding a little drunk. And for my alarming tendency to speak in italics.
PS — This is my 100th post! Wahoo!