Richard Yates Essay - Critical Essays

Yates, Richard (Vol. 23)

Introduction

Richard Yates 1926–

American novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter.

Yates's fictional world challenges the myth of the "American dream." His carefully drawn, unexceptional characters are trapped in lives of frustration and loneliness. The despairing mood of his fiction is relieved only by the skill and compassion with which he reveals his characters' inadequacies and the ennui of their lives.

Yates shuns innovative techniques for traditional realism. His first novel, Revolutionary Road, is still considered his best work for its depiction of the banality of suburban life. Kurt Vonnegut called it "The Great Gatsby of my time," a comment which exemplifies the respect Yates has received from other writers. His short stories collected in Eleven Kinds of Loneliness and Liars in Love further develop his theme of the tragedy of loneliness.

(See also CLC, Vols. 7, 8; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981.)

Peter Buitenhuis

At the end of the last [story in "Eleven Kinds of Loneliness,"] the narrator says: "I'm not even sure if there are any windows in this particular house…." The house is a metaphor for the story itself, which marks, I believe, a significant step forward in Richard Yates' art. It leads one to expect the same sort of excellence in his future short stories as he achieved in his first novel, "Revolutionary Road."

"The house of fiction has ∗∗∗ not one window, but a million," Henry James wrote, "every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable ∗∗∗ by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will." The windows that Mr. Yates opens on experience...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

John Thompson

A Special Providence, by Richard Yates, is a straightforward, intelligent, and clearly written story of a boy's growth and his mother's decline. It has all the clear, cool, accumulated observation that marked Yates' first novel, Revolutionary Road. Nothing intervenes between the author's knowledge and the reader's understanding but simple English that transmits that knowledge. There are no mannerisms here, no reluctance. These are simple people, and neither the author, nor the people themselves, nor the reader, has any difficulty in recognizing their feelings, in knowing what has caused them, and in finding their consequences. (pp. 127-28)

John Thompson, "The...

(The entire section is 121 words.)

The Atlantic Monthly

The foolishness and fakery committed in the pursuit of aristocracy give a nice sardonic edge to this strangely wistful novel [A Good School] about life in a bad prep school in the 1940s.

Founded to educate "sons of the gentry," Dorset Academy, with its queer "Cotswold" architecture, its shaky academic credentials and even shakier finances, has instead a reputation for taking in boys "no other school would touch." Yates deftly portrays the private misery of those unlucky enough to be associated with "a funny school," foremost among them William Grove, editor-by-default of the school paper.

Yates traces Grove's awkward passage through the hazings and initiations of adolescence...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Nicholas Guild

[A Good School is a novel] which invites you to read it as autobiography….

[It] either succeeds or fails according to our sense of how well [Yates] has understood his own experience, of how clearly he is able to bring that experience into focus through the lens of his implicit assumptions about it.

The action of the novel concerns events during the last three years in the existence of a boys' boarding school in Connecticut just before and during World War II. There are several narrative threads, many functioning independently and none really dominant, yet one feels that Bill Grove has some claim to being considered the protagonist, not only because of his identification...

(The entire section is 574 words.)

Jonathan Penner

[A Good School] reads as swiftly as a stolen diary. That is nearly what it is: the annals of Dorset Academy, a prep school, during its expiring years in the early 1940s. The point of view rotates among many characters, but a protagonist gradually emerges…. (p. 42)

The Foreword and Afterword imply that the novel is largely autobiographical, and it is [the] unappetizing figure [of protagonist William Grove] whom we are meant to associate with the author. He bears, with no grace whatever, the stigmata of sparse pubic hair, naive rhetoric, and a crummy wardrobe. But William Grove endures. Surviving every form of boarding-school barbarism, he passes through apprenticeships social and literary,...

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Thomas R. Edwards

In A Good School, Richard Yates surveys familiar ground. School is a classic metaphor for growing up, for the biological and cultural passage from youth and innocence to whatever their opposite may be—experience, wisdom, sophistication, disillusionment, corruption….

Such a situation is dangerously susceptible to sentimental nostalgia, but Yates writes about it [and his fictional Dorset Academy] with considerable detachment. Part of the story is told in first-person reminiscences by William Grove, an old Dorset boy who is now a middle-aged writer, but the main narrative is told in the impartial third person, with Grove no more prominent than several of his contemporaries. Grove has had a...

(The entire section is 361 words.)

Geoffrey Stokes

This smoothly written and thoroughly tedious collection [Liars in Love] is about people who are apparently meant to be extraordinary doing ordinary things in ordinary ways. Yates is a professional—there's nothing actively wrong with any of these stories—but each is more forgettable than the last. Esquire fiction at its bittersweetest.

Geoffrey Stokes, "Brief Encounters: 'Liars in Love'," in VLS (copyright © 1981 News Group Publications, Inc.), No. 1, October, 1981, p. 3.

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James Atlas

Richard Yates confided in a memoir of his literary apprenticeship that The Great Gatsby was the most instructive novel he had ever read; its structure and technique were visible yet unobtrusive….

It was with this same sensation of reading a novel at once wholly believable and conscious of its own artifice that I read Yates's first novel, Revolutionary Road…. [It] remains one of the few novels I know that could be called flawless. The story of a promising middle-class marriage that ends in ruin, Revolutionary Road is a grim, pitiless account of the miseries of suburban life. It depicts with controlled rage the illusions of conventional people who consider themselves bohemian,...

(The entire section is 984 words.)

Robert R. Harris

It is good to report that realism in short fiction is alive and well.

Liars in Love is Richard Yates's first collection of stories since Eleven Kinds of Loneliness was published nearly 20 years ago. It contains seven longish tales, only one of which is disappointing. Two are gems.

Set in New York's Greenwich Village during the Depression, "Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired" carefully details the trials of two children and their sculptor manqué mother, a foolish woman who is teetering "at the onset of a long battle with alcohol that she would ultimately lose." The story ends with the mortified children watching their mother engage in a drunken, bitter, anti-Semitic rage....

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Robert Wilson

If you've read Richard Yates since his remarkable first novel, Revolutionary Road (1961), or if you've discovered him along the way, through his brilliant collection of stories, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962), or one of his other novels, especially The Easter Parade (1976) and A Good School (1978), then it probably won't matter to you that his new book of stories is not always up to his best work. With a writer this good, you'll want to see for yourself, as you would with Updike or Cheever, whose turf, the suburbs of the Northeast, Yates often treads.

Were Liars in Love Yates' first book and not his seventh, if it did not have the other books to live up to, then...

(The entire section is 460 words.)