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This is a review of the Vintage paperback.
Richard Yates is a writer who seemed destined to be undervalued. Until the 1990s, following his death in 1992, much of his written output was out of print and the regular punter probably couldn't get hold of much of his stuff. This is all by the by now as Yates is getting his props since the filming of his first novel 'Revolutionary Road', of which I've neither read the novel or seen the film, but mostly I've heard lots of comments to the effect of: 'it's a great novel which was made into an average movie'. When my brother began saying how amazing the novel 'Revolutionary Road' was I thought I'd like to check out some Richard Yates.
I've always been a fan of short stories and collections of them, and the American short story became an art form in it's own right in the latter part of the 20th century. I like Raymond Carver and John Cheever and Richard Yates was always a name that cropped up in conjunction with those writers.
'Eleven Kinds Of Loneliness' is a set of eleven short stories which all have a sort of linking theme between them. Written between 1951 and 1961 and published in 1962, the stories look at how the American Dream can go sour or at least how it could not live up to the idea that might have been sold/projected.
In the first story 'Doctor Jack O Lantern' a young teacher attempts to make a new boy in her class feel welcome but her best efforts come to nothing as he goes off the rails. This kind of 'Hardy Realism' is in all of the stories, the idea that you might not get what you deserve even after you were good etc....can be a depressing read, but Yates is not quite as brutal as Thomas Hardy. The stories are written in a simple and very readable prose style, which I've heard is the case with most of Yates's works.
The book is not at all taxing and I found that a story before bed each night was a pleasant entertainment. In many ways Yates is a sort of latter day F Scott Fitzgerald, everything has a very genteel feel about it and 50s America can feel like Victorian England in some of the stories. This is not really a criticism, it's just after reading an Elmore Leonard this was a little more sedate!.
This was my first Richard Yates and I will definitely read more, in the 60s I'm sure there were more 'cutting edge' writers commenting or even creating the counter-culture and in such an environment I can see Yates's 'antiquated' style being left behind. This is a pity though because great writing is also about getting the reader interested and involved in the story and sometimes over-complication doesn't do that.
I think Yates is a very decent writer, though this didn't feel like a major work. 'Revolutionary Road' and 'The Easter Parade' are supposed to be very good so I will try those novels when I'm next in the mood for some Yates. Here is a list of the stories contained in the book:
Doctor Jack O Lantern
The Best Of Everything
Jody Rolled The Bones
No Pain Whatsoever
A Glutton For Punishment
A Wrestler With Sharks
Fun With A Stranger
The B.A.R Man
A Really Good Jazz Piano
Out With The Old
Most of the stories are very short, on average between 10 and 20 pages and are fairly inconsequential, sort of snippets of life for New Yorkers in the 1950s. The final story 'Builders' was probably my favourite as it's longer length gave Yates more of an opportunity to flesh out the plot, which concerns a young writer who is hired by a taxi driver to fictionalise events from his life, in the hope that the Reader's Digest will pick up on one of the stories, making them rich.
Short story writing is a skill, not all novelists are great short story writers, I suspect that Yates is a better novelist but what is here is very readable and I would recommend it.
The 2008 Vintage publication is well done with an attractive sleeve and clear print/layout. The £7.99 retail price is rather hefty though, rent it from a library or get it from a charity shop if you can.