by Richard Yates
Richard Yates’s level of perception is so deep, and brought to the page with such grace, that even his most poignant and gloomy stories fill mewith joy. This collection of shorts is such a work. Each story in this remarkable little volume is carefully observed, each a study in loneliness. And yet Yates is able to lead the reader through them without feeling the same pain as his characters. His skill as an observer of the human condition is such that you feel connected to these sad characters, but able to sympathise from a distance at the same time. You feel like their psychiatrist: calculating a diagnosis, while understanding their character on every level.
And that does not mean that these stories come off as cold or distant. Just that Yates’s style affords you a kind of objectivity. It is not true objectivity – you still feel something for the lonely teacher who never quite hits it off with her class – but it is objective nonetheless. Yates has lifted the lid on these people’s homes so that you might look in on their lives. You can see and feel them with the professional detachment of a counsellor.
The collection is also a canny, if demographically narrow, perspective on twentieth century America, as is Yates’s Revolutionary Road. The intriguing social experiment of American modernity is portrayed with Yates’s characteristic pathos and clarity. For that alone, these stories are excellent.