So what is going on here?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 4, 2010 by kateonyates

Time for an update I think.

I am now working on a book on Richard Yates. What a surprise! There’s a mountain of work to do and I want to get it right but this is all new territory for me. Some people seem to snap out books with apparent ease. Blake Bailey for one. Two masterful biographies and not a big gap between them. Anyway, I will do my best and hope that I can produce something enjoyable as well as informative. Cutting out academic jargon should be easy enough since I don’t go in for it in a big way, but cutting out references is harder; I don’t want to lose the ‘meat of the thing’, if you see what I mean.

Also, what to call it? Now there’s a question…..My external examiner commented that I wasn’t much good at titles and there was I thinking I was brilliant. Any thoughts would be helpful, oh silent readers. Obviously you don’t know the work, but let’s just say it’s an extended critical look at all Yates’s work, or rather, it will be.


Finishing the PhD & asking for help.

Posted in What next? on June 29, 2010 by kateonyates

Well, my journey towards my first goal is all but over; having handed in my thesis in February and had my Viva in May (in the UK everyone has to have a Viva), and having passed, I will graduate in July.

It’s been a long and instructive journey, right up to the end. The ‘minor corrections’ I have had to make have shown me how poor my own writing is and that is a shock frankly. I split infinitives with alacrity. I repeat myself. I switch tenses half way through a paragraph. I feel so ashamed.

The good news is that these are minor things, apparently, and my writing and research on Richard Yates’s work went down a storm – so I was told. The first question I was asked in my Viva was what did I now think of Yates’s work, three and a half years after starting the PhD. I had no hesitation in saying that I still pick up Eleven Kinds of Loneliness for pure enjoyment and to remind myself what a great writer I have had the privilege of working with.

So that’s that. A chapter of a life complete and I do feel a sense of achievement though inevitably I wish I could have done it better – fewer split infinitives for one thing! Now, what you may well ask: perhaps I will try to turn it into a book. There should be interest bearing in mind schools and universities are teaching Yates.

This is where you come in. If you are a student (or a teacher) and have been dropping in on my blog, could you let me know what your school is (wherever it is): the name, the place and what you have been studying in the way of Yates. If I need proof he is being taught the more of you that do that the more proof I will have. I won’t publish your responses unless you want me to. I know DeWitt Henry has been teaching Yates at Emerson College in Boston and I know he is being taught at Ipswich School in the UK and at Sherborne School also in the UK but you will agree that that is hardly proof of anything. So please get back to me!

Off to nurse a bad back now but I look forward to hearing from you all………

Alice Munro

Posted in Other writers on April 21, 2010 by kateonyates

Well I’ve given up apologising for the relapses……

So to bring you up to date, I’ve submitted my thesis for examination and nervously await my examining Viva. I have no idea when it will be. Since February, when I submitted, I haven’t dared even look at my work. I did re-read an article I wrote for an online journal of some repute and I didn’t find it impressive; I had shied away from saying the difficult things which now annoys me a lot. It was just all a bit ‘safe’. I think my negative thoughts about Yates’s writing about women and their sexuality involved very explicit writing – on his part – and therefore need similar scrutiny on mine. I just didn’t feel able to do that in an article – pathetic! It is all in my thesis though.

In the meantime, I’ve been taking a break from all things Yatesian but I have been reading some of the work of Alice Munro who I understand ‘rates’ Yates and has for a long time: so not completely leaving Yates behind! I absolutely love her work and can see lots of links with Yates’ work not least in the way she uses and fictionalises her own biography: The View from Castle Rock and Runaway were my entry points but  Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is a sublime collection of writing. I now have Too Much Happiness waiting for me. Canada and it’s landscape just comes alive as does a very unique authorial voice.

Enough for now but I’ll be back….

2010 Update: more on women

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2010 by kateonyates

Many apologies to those of you who loyally clock in hoping to find something new, interesting and challenging here: how disappointed you must be to discover that I’ve been so idle and haven’t written anything for weeks. By the way, who are all the hundreds of people who checked into this blog on the 27th December?? I’d love you to get in touch – perhaps not all of you though! It’s been ‘head down time’ as I get ever nearer to completing and submitting my thesis while at the same time editing a couple of pieces for different journal articles and running a family of young adults.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a piece about Yates’s fictional treatment of women; it’s too long and so I have to cut it down but here’s a taster:

In all his fiction, Yates explores a world in which women live diminished lives; while not overtly championing women’s right to work, nor indeed their domestic rights, Yates observes that society restricts women and interrogates the forms of those restrictions. (With the publication of The Feminine Mystique, 1963 is normally regarded as the date when ‘the problem that had no name’ was addressed and I use it therefore as an indicator of change even if that view now seems simplistic.) By focussing on Sarah Grimes’s thwarted desire to write, or Rachel Drake’s (Cold Spring Harbor) determination to get married in order not to break the cardinal rule that forbade sex before marriage (Jessica Weiss addresses this issue, indicating that the desire to have sex was, in the fifties, a powerful inducement to marriage: ‘Bowing to or upholding social conventions that frowned on premarital sex, couples married early in part because they were eager for sexual intimacy.’ (Weiss, To Have and To Hold, p.24), Yates highlights the terms of their controlled lives. What he does not do, however, is suggest that women were, in any organised fashion, becoming articulate about their situation. In that sense he stands apart from the terms of many of the retrospective sociological commentaries. Wini Breines, for instance, prefaces her book with these words:

The feminism of the past twenty-five years enables us to see that white, middle-class girls who were taught in the 1950s that their main goals in life were to become wives and mothers only ambivalently internalized these values and sometimes rejected them outright, embracing instead a wider world.(Wini Breines, Young, White, and Miserable, p. ix)

Rather than adopting a radical standpoint which would have marked him down as an early feminist of the second wave, Yates explores women’s uncertainty about their role in his fiction. Of course, his explorations come from a male perspective but the ambivalence of his standpoint was indicative of the uncertainty and confusion of the era. Whatever their intellectual or rational selves taught them about the way forward for the division of labour within the home, for instance, men and women ‘valued traditional family patterns and followed a traditional…course’ (Weiss, p.69); as Jessica Weiss expresses it, ‘norms of masculinity and femininity still tethered these postwar couples.’ (Weiss, p.31)

The Easter Parade (1976), suggests his increasing awareness of the difficulties of life for women as his story is centred on the struggles of his female protagonist, Emily Grimes, and her older sister Sarah.  Both sisters try to become writers and for different reasons fail in this ambition.  Their thwarted desire to write is just one of the ways that Yates uses to indicate how men, threatened by female ambition, hold back the women they live with. As Elaine Showalter indicates in her chapter on the 50s, ‘women writers tended to be isolated in their rooms, homes, and marriages.’ (Showalter, A Jury of Her Peers, p.393) At the same time, Yates also weaves domestic violence into this novel, suggesting an understanding of the vulnerability of women within marriage that should be noted.  Furthermore, Yates’s inclusion of abortion in several stories, notably Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade, suggests attentiveness to, and sensitivity towards, the wider political debate about the rights of women.

As I have indicated, Yates’s work reinforces a contemporary revisionist view that sees the fifties, not the sixties, as the time when women’s rights became a new part of the socio-political agenda. However, I do not, and could not, argue that Yates was a proto-feminist: he was not.  There is a real split between Yates’s intellectual appreciation of how life is peculiarly difficult for women within marriages that constrain them or diminish them and his emotional distaste for anything that smacks of a political move to address those issues.  Blake Bailey draws some attention to Yates’s feelings on the subject, when, in the early 1970s, his second wife Martha was thinking of leaving him:

Largely to spare his feelings, she’d spoken in rather vague terms about wanting to “find herself,” and Yates concluded that she’d become a “womens’-libbing bitch” as he sometimes put it.  He couldn’t speak calmly on the subject; partly, perhaps, because his mother’s “independence” had caused him so much grief, Yates’s hatred for all “feminist horseshit” bordered on the pathological. (Bailey, A Tragic Honesty, 2003 p.429)

The contradictoriness of his attitude towards women and their role in life is evident here. His observations about gender roles in his fictions only make sense if one understands that his views were not driven by ideological concerns. Noticing how constrained they were, Yates felt women should be able to work and have a life independent of the home: feeling the effects of this in his own life, he felt they should still put the concerns and needs of their husbands first; to do less was to earn his contempt.

In his fictions, despite much interest in the plight of the ‘diminished female’, scorn is heaped on both feminists and postmodernists alike and it is with some relish that he fuses the two in his fourth novel The Easter Parade. Emily is invited to a party, a grim affair with no single men, but the hosts tell her about Trudy, their neighbour, who gives masturbation classes to lonely women: ‘Sort of the ultimate in radical feminism. Who needs men? (TEP, p.215) the host dryly observes. Emily goes along with others to see Trudy’s studio and finds herself looking at ‘what looks like a sculptured sunburst of many podlike aluminum shapes’ (Ibid., p.216), cast, Trudy explains, from her students’ vaginas. ‘There were no more parties’,(Ibid.)Yates writes. As Bailey points out, this ‘elliptical leap…nicely summarizes his attitude toward radical feminism.’ (Blake Bailey Women independent of men was something Yates was both contemptuous of and feared; he expressed similar contempt towards homosexuality with equally conflicting results. Despite highlighting the homophobia prevalent in the fifties in a story such as ‘A Clinical Romance’, or in his depiction of artists in Young Hearts Crying, Monica Yates, in a recent interview with Yates’s daughters, recalls his horrified reaction when she suggested that she might join the army: “Everyone in the army is lesbians! You can’t go in the army, baby.” (Kate Charlton-Jones, ‘Living on Revolutionary Road, The Times, Jan. 24th 2009


Posted in Debatable issues on September 23, 2009 by kateonyates

A few thoughts here about that discussion April has with Frank (round about page 111  as far as the end of Part one): I love the way this description of their intense discussion kicks off as Frank imagines how April will have worked herself up into a lather during the day. What’s clever though is the way we slide across from Frank’s thoughts to hers;  ‘she must have spent the afternoon in a frenzy of action…’ becomes, by the end of the paragraph, ‘Her whole day had been a heroic build-up for this moment of self-abasement; now it was here, and she was damned if she’d stand for any interference’ – and so she launches forth. Brilliant dramatic shift in pace and perspective.

April’s argument for going to Paris is predicated on her fierce belief in Frank; she believes that her high opinion of him and the kind of man he could be is universally shared: ‘But if you mean who ever said you were exceptional, if you mean who ever said you had a first-rate original mind – well my God, Frank, the answer is everybody.’The irony of this is impressed on the reader as Yates explores Frank’s idiomatic thoughts, thoughts which reveal his weakness and vanity (‘Had Bill Croft really said that?’). He cannot win the argument without demolishing April’s high opinion of who he is and of who she has married but this is not within his capabilities. Thus the ‘note of honest doubt’ that he thinks he might have heard in her voice is immediately countered by his acquiescence that, ‘“Okay, let’s say I was a promising kid.”’ Furthermore, as he develops his posturing, ‘his voice had taken on a resonance that made it every bit as theatrical as hers. It was the voice of a hero’. Far from condemning Frank for this inability to put his wife straight, Yates offers up his fallibility as a man to a reader who might very well recognise that with such small dishonesties all marriages are weakened. With these small indicators of human, and particularly male, posturing, Yates critiques notions of heroism in its contemporary form. Through several of his male protagonists, he suggests that the mid-twentieth century ‘hero’ is a pastiche of Hollywood lead actors; he has all the substantiality of a male in an advertising campaign and we are invited to watch him flounder as he checks his image in mirrors, adjusts his voice just as he adjusts his hair,  postures and preens. This is one remove from Fitzgerald’s flawed men who have heroic stature; the fallen idols of romance novels and classic film; Yates’s men never get close to heroic.

While his characters are never heroes, Yates observes how the ordinary man will borrow slithers of heroic fabric to coat his otherwise average behaviour. So here, Frank’s voice alters as he sees potential in himself and in the moment.  Yates uses moments such as this one with Frank to indicate the gap that exists between how his protagonist wants to be seen and how he is seen; usually it is the reader, rather than the other characters, who does the real ‘seeing’. The gap his females have to negotiate is typified here by April. It is, Yates suggests, a difference encouraged by a society that asks its females to take second place to their male partners and to place a greater value on their needs and their ideas of themselves. While loneliness, dissatisfaction and resentment characterize April’s life, domestically imprisoned as she feels herself to be in their neat little home, the reader is aware that the real danger for April comes from the construction of Frank she has made in her mind. At this stage in the novel, we have seen that Frank has to face ‘the graceless, suffering creature whose existence he tried every day of his life to deny’ but we have not yet seen April confront the reality of the man she is trying  to put on a pedestal (and society would appear to be encouraging her in this). As she learns to face up to the truth of who Frank is, and, therefore, to the truth about the shifting sands of their marriage, Yates suggests, with her tragic end, that that reality is too much to bear.

Considering mothers in A Special Providence

Posted in Debatable issues on August 26, 2009 by kateonyates

It’s been a while – I know, I know- and apologies to those who regularly check in and find nothing new under the sun. I want to go on with some more thoughts about Yates’s second novel. Not a patch on the first, it’s still an interesting read, especially for someone studying Yates and piecing together his views on life and relationship. It would seem that one of the reasons A Special Providence is perhaps Yates’s least successful novel and least admired work is that he remains too close to the characters he describes, a fact he acknowledged with characteristic ease and insightful self-criticism:

I suspect that’s why A Special Providence is a weak book – one of the reasons, anyway. It’s not properly formed; I never did achieve enough fictional distance on the character of Robert Prentice. (Ploughshares interview, 1972)

Re-working the main character of his 1962 short story, ‘Builders’, a protagonist Yates acknowledged as, ‘clearly and nakedly myself’ (ibid.), Robert Prentice’s wartime experiences and his experiences trying to free himself from his cloying and dependent mother, form the central drama of the story. While Yates was, in this novel, clearly trying to continue the ‘autobiographical blowout’ (ibid.) he’d begun with ‘Builders’, I would suggest that the weakness of the book is not just Yates’s lack of distance from Robert Prentice but encompasses his portrayal of Robert’s mother, Alice Prentice, as well. While Yates felt that with ‘Builders’ he’d ‘managed to avoid both of the two terrible traps that lie in the path of autobiographical fiction, self-pity and self-aggrandizement’ (ibid.) it seems that both traps awaited him in this, his second novel, and not just in the portrait of the protagonist. Alice is an archetype of all Yates’s mother figures, seemingly the closest he came to creating a portrait of his own mother Dookie and, in that respect, Yates, driven by both his love for, and antipathy towards, Dookie, diminishes and caricatures her.

Blake Bailey includes an interesting vignette about the complexity of this relationship:

Once, when Yates was responding to questions about his work, a young woman commented on how awful the mother was in A Special Providence – “so careless and thoughtless and self-centred” – and asked Yates what he thought of her. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I guess I sort of love her.” (A Tragic Honesty, p.36)

While we can’t fail to see the poignancy of Alice’s predicament, a single woman, impoverished and self-deluding in her social ambitions, we don’t as readers achieve the same level of empathy with her  that Yates achieves with some of his other portraits of mothers (although any empathy with have for his mother figures is highly circumscribed). Blake Bailey acknowledges that this failure of distance is most evident in Yates’s maternal figures:

‘Yates’s compassion for human weakness, for the flaws that make failure so inevitable, is everywhere in his work – with the occasional exception of certain characters based on his mother’ (Ibid.p.17). However, I take issue with Bailey’s exception to this claim, when he suggests that Alice is ‘rounded and essentially forgiveable’. For me, Alice Prentice is the ‘Dickensian grotesque’ that Bailey sees more clearly drawn in Yates’s other novels.

In the long Prologue to A Special Providence, Yates describes Robert Prentice’s leave from the army in 1944. Deciding to spend the time with his mother, he makes the long journey from the camp in Virginia to New York. Prentice is alarmed to find his mother living in near squalor and penury but continuing to borrow money and drinking heavily. Using the metaphor of the movies (a metaphor that he overworks in this novel), Yates indicates how Prentice makes life more palatable by seeing ‘himself as the hero of some inspiring movie about the struggles of the poor.’ (ASP, p.10) The problem for him is, ‘that his mother refused to play her role’, as we see here:

He kept hoping to come home and find her acting the way he thought she ought to act: a humble widow, gratefully cooking meat and potatoes for her tired son, sitting down with a sewing basket as soon as she’d washed the dishes, darning his socks in the lamplight and perhaps looking up to inquire, shyly, if he wouldn’t like to call up some girl.

While ironically drawing attention to Prentice’s traditionally inflected understanding of appropriate male and female roles, as he visualises the adoring, attentive mother, dutifully taking care of all the housework and dancing attendance on a son who has been out to earn a living to support them both, Yates subtly suggests the problematic nature of their relationship. With Prentice’s imagining, Yates both sets up an ideal and demolishes it as a possibility as he then describes her subsequent behaviour. He captures the growing emotional distance between the protagonist and his mother, a distance compounded and exaggerated by her emotional response. Following an argument about money, for instance, an argument that Alice is not able to win, she has the first of several tantrums we witness: ‘And she burst into tears. As if shot, she then clutched her left breast and collapsed full length on the floor, splitting an armpit seam of the dress…’ Ridiculous in its extravagance and both grotesque and immature in its attempt to manipulate, Alice’s behaviour alienates her son and the reader. Beyond the gap in communication and behaviour highlighted between these two people, the ideal that Robert Prentice has imagined is an ideal of marital, not filial, devotion; by ascribing such an ideal to Prentice, Yates indicates a basic problem in the nature of their relationship, a problem, he suggests throughout the text, that seals their fate.

The problem of domineering mothers, and of mothers that control and manipulate their sons, occurs time and again in his fictions with intertextual resonances that create a clear indication of how Yates viewed motherhood and felt deeply the failings of his own mother. The shades of inappropriate behaviour on behalf of the mother are hard to miss, as is indicated by one particular image in A Special Providence, that of a sculptress mother using her child as a model. In this novel, the small naked boy is made to endure both discomfort and humiliation as the mother in question attends to her own needs, invading her child’s privacy and attacking his dignity. He is laughed at and belittled when his little friends peer into the barn where his mother has her studio. Although Alice is described as seeing ‘Bobby round-eyed with humiliation, hunched over with both hands hiding his genitals’, (ASP, p.133) she doesn’t register his shame and gets him to carry on posing. Both the reader, and the boy, looking back, experience this as a form of grotesque selfishness and insensitivity coming as it does after he has been observed and laughed at by ‘three or four pairs of eyes peering in through an inch-wide crack in the wallboards.’ According to Bailey, ‘Dookie’s favorite model for her faunlets, often posed in the nude, was the small, obliging Richard’. (Bailey, ATH, p.21) There is something so deeply poignant about Yates’s rendition of this idiosyncratic event in A Special Providence that one almost doesn’t need the confirming detail from Bailey that this event mirrored exactly his own experience.

James Agee

Posted in Other writers, Uncategorized on May 27, 2009 by kateonyates

I know this is a bit of a departure from my work on Yates but I have only just discovered the incredible work of Mr James Agee, and in particular A Death in the Family. I have been struck by it as forcibly as I was struck six years ago by Revolutionary Road. It is a work of true genius with recognisable homage paid to Faulkner, Hardy and, I think, many of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century poets.

I am only two thirds of the way through my first reading but I am getting up early and staying awake late to keep reading. The prose is poetic without ever being overdone; the observations about human behaviour are so precise, so detailed and breathtakingly sharp; the shift in narrative view, and the gap between the inner and outer person, all carefully and dynamically conveyed. And then there’s the debate about Man and his beliefs threaded throughout, like an argument the author is having with himself, that strikes me as being so like Wallace Stevens’s work. It’s all a very different perspective on the family from the one Yates gives and makes for some interesting comparisons.

I want to know more about James Agee….Have any of you read any of his work, prose or poetry? Is there a biography? I only have the information that Wikipedia provides and it is’t much.

I have to thank my friend Mark for putting me on to this work and I look forward to finding time to read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

‘The Best of Everything’

Posted in Debatable issues on May 4, 2009 by kateonyates

Re reading this story the other day, I continue to marvel at Yates’s economy of style and the complexty of his depictions of men and women. It is a wonderful indicator of how enormous the gap was between men and women who, in the fifties, couldn’t easily express themselves either about their emotions or about sex.

In ‘The Best of Everything’, Yates directs his readers’ sympathies to his female protagonist. Grace, as we have seen early in the story, is unsure of herself and is influenced and guided by those around her, propelled towards a romantic and idealised view of what is about to happen. Ralph is also seen as nervous, unwilling and far happier with ‘the lads’; it is the lads who move him to tears, the lads who touch him with their surprise party and their wonderful gift. His first loyalties are to his best friend Eddie and, not for the first time in a Yates story, suggest an element of homoeroticism that the story leaves unexplored: ‘Eddie was his best friend’ and ‘Half the fun of every date – even more than half – had been telling Eddie about it afterwards’. Such phrases suggest not just Ralph’s closeness to Eddie but his dependence on him, a closeness, dependence and comfort that we read in opposition to his aloof attitude towards his future bride. Furthermore, Yates slows his narrative to describe with great precision the moment when Eddie presents Ralph with his wedding present in a way that draws quiet attention to the intensity of emotion between these two men; ‘Then the crowd cleaved in half, and Eddie made his way slowly down the middle. His eyes gleamed in a smile of love, and from his bashful hand hung the suitcase’. Reading like a parody of a bridal march, Yates’s description further reminds us of the gaps between his actual bride and his ‘best friend’. But it is not just Ralph against whom we read Grace: her friend and roommate’s snobbery forms another dialectic in this tale as Martha mimics and parodies Ralph’s speech – ‘“Isn’t he funny?” Martha had said after their first date. “He says ‘terlet.’ I didn’t know people really said ‘terlet.’”’ – as well as his cultural background; “Oh, and all those friends of his, his Eddie and his Marty and his George with their mean, ratty little clerks’ lives and their mean, ratty little…” Such superiority sits uneasily with Yates’ readership both in the sixties and now.

Yates captures the gap between male and female experience of marriage and courtship and underlies the fear for both genders about the step into the unknown that they are about to take, but it is to the isolate and disempowered that we are drawn. Grace, unaware of the surprise party Eddie has thrown for him, a party which he is desperate to return to, greets Ralph at the door in the expensive negligee she has bought for their honeymoon. He barely even notices her provocative garb, seductive tone, or the promise of the unencumbered pre-marital sex that they all imply: ‘“Hi, baby.” He brushed past her and walked inside. “Guess I’m late, huh? You in bed?”’ His quick-fire snappy dialogue is beautifully contrasted with her languid movements as, mimicking the seduction techniques of Hollywood starlets, ‘She closed the door and leaned against it with both hands holding the doorknob at the small of her back, the way heroines close doors in the movies.’ When Ralph finally notices her negligee, his response to it is characteristically vulgar and further emphasises the lack of any emotional investment in their partnership; ‘“Nice,” he said, feeling the flimsy material between thumb and index finger, like a merchant. “Very nice. Wudga pay fa this, honey?”’

Brilliant, in my view. Is there a better example of such a communication gap in the writing of, or about, the 1950s? Let me know….


Yates and women

Posted in Debatable issues on April 23, 2009 by kateonyates

Sorry I have been quiet for so long; just too much going on. However, let’s get down to business now…..I would welcome your thoughts on Yates’s portrayal of women. I will have a go at considering this myself but feel free to chip in, criticize and/or argue with my observations.

Yates’s writing displays a prescient awareness of gender politics but, as with all his political commentary, his expression of this consciousness is fused into his broader narratives. In his early work, work written up to and including Revolutionary Road‘s publication in 1961, Yates’s depiction of the struggles men, and more particularly women, encounter, both within and outside the home, prefigure some of the concerns adopted by the second wave of feminism.  Although Yates’s work was not propelled by an interest in sexual politics, he wrote about what he knew and observed, thus producing insights that now seem ahead of their time and at cross-purposes with how America wanted to see itself.  Although he was not alone in doing this, the issues he drew attention to did not become part of mainstream thinking until after the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 – even if, as several contemporary social historians suggest, the ideas Friedan included in her book had been around long before 1963; Friedan gave voice and recognition, so they now argue, to attitudes already quite established. Yates’s early work, written during the mid-fifties (as all but one of the stories in Eleven Kinds of Loneliness were), seems to suggest our contemporary historians are right; the ideas were around and Yates picked up on them, incorporating many quite radical ideas into his fiction.

In his later work, he went on to develop his investigation into how women inhabit a proscribed space in life.  The Easter Parade (1976), his fourth novel, suggests his increasing awareness of this issue as his story is centred on the struggles of his female protagonist, Emily Grimes, and her older sister Sarah.  Both sisters try to become writers and for different reasons fail in this ambition.  Since the only consolation Yates ever seems to find in life is in writing, it seems doubly significant that these women fail in their ambition to be writers. Being prevented from writing, as Sarah is, would seem to be tantamount to stealing the soul of an individual in Yates’s eyes, stealing not just their imaginative potential but the dreams that give them hope.

In the course of his narrative Yates suggests how men, threatened by female ambition, hold back the women they live with.  At the same time, Yates also weaves into this novel his awareness of domestic violence, suggesting an understanding of the vulnerability of women within marriage that should be noted.  Furthermore, Yates’s inclusion of abortion in several stories, notably Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade, suggests attentiveness to, and sensitivity towards, the political debate about the rights of women.  However, I do not, and could not, argue that Yates was a proto-feminist: he was not.  There are bad young mothers in his fiction too – look at ‘Saying Goodbye to Sally’. There is a real split between Yates’s intellectual appreciation of how life is peculiarly difficult for women within marriages that constrain them or diminish them and his emotional distaste for anything that smacks of a political move to address those issues.  Blake Bailey draws some attention to Yates’s feelings on the subject, when, in the early 1970s, his second wife Martha was thinking of leaving him:

Largely to spare his feelings, she’d spoken in rather vague terms about wanting to “find herself,” and Yates concluded that she’d become a “womens’-libbing bitch” as he sometimes put it.  He couldn’t speak calmly on the subject; partly, perhaps, because his mother’s “independence” had caused him so much grief, Yates’s hatred for all “feminist horseshit” bordered on the pathological. (Bailey, p.429)

And then, of course, there are all the failing older women of his fiction. Coming from his emotional dislike and resentment of his own mother, the portraits of these women – Pookie, Gloria Drake et al – they seem to dominate but shouldn’t obscure what he is also saying about the politics of womanhood.

A Special Providence

Posted in Debatable issues on March 11, 2009 by kateonyates

Of all Yates’s autobiographically-led works, this novel must surely be his roman a clef. Bob Prentice, his thinly disguised alter-ego, makes the transition from adolescence to manhood via the grim experience of trying to stay alive, and sometimes fighting, during the end of the Second World War, in ways that seem to mirror exactly what Yates himself went through. That probably explains both why he hated it – and he really did hate it – and why it had to be written. He had surprised himself, I think, with what he produced in Revolutionary Road and hadn’t, as most writers seem to do with their first novel,  expunged his own demons. So ASP allows him to do that but he wanted to bury it. Monica Yates told me this: ‘I’m with all the people that think that he and everyone else was unfairly hard on A Special Providence – that’s a pretty good one too’ and went on to tell me that her brother-in-law dared once to praise it to RY. He was not pleased! He likened it to preferring a rat on a leash over a greyhound. Interesting.

Re-reading this novel has been fascinating. No, it’s not as good as Revolutionary Road or The Easter Parade but there are some very, very good bits. The war writing is so vivid and so honest. Prentice stumbles about in a fog of ignorance and illness in ways that not only mirror Yates’s own youth and tubercular struggles but must mirror those of so many other young men, drafted abroad after only six weeks training and still unsure which end of  a gun to hold. His desperate desire to find friends, while only further annoying all those around him, his clumsiness and lack of natural athleticism, his thoughts about his Mum (though always aware of how irritating she is), and the visceral sense of how grim and frightening the whole experience was and how alone he was with his fear, is all so realistically and, as I said, honestly, conveyed. He doesn’t write about big battles, huge vaguely honourable duties to eliminate the enemy: he writes about little skirmishes – of which there must have been hundreds of thousands – when you could barely tell who was friend and who was foe. It’s the minutiae of war not the grand picture.

Where this book is weaker is in the lack of a control, a sense of control we see in most of his other fiction. He overuses the movie-metaphor for instance, making it stand out as a tool for his art, rather than as he did in RR, or in his short stories, allowing it to blend organically with the experience being described.

Memories of Yates

Posted in Memories of Yates on March 6, 2009 by kateonyates

Sadly I can’t contribute having never had the opportunity to meet Richard Yates. However, Jen who commented on my Libby Purves piece, was taught by him at the University of Southern California. Much of what she has since said to me is on her own blog:

Life after the film

Posted in What next? on February 25, 2009 by kateonyates

I’ve been quiet recently, but not idle. In my study at least there is a sense of dust having settled (sadly, literally as well as metaphorically).

The film is out there, reviewed countless times, watched by those who have never read any Yates and by thousands who have and everyone has an opinion. As my blog shows, I’ve snapped and barked at the heels of those who seem to me not to have understood aspects of Yates’s work, often unfairly since with a little distance, it was usually Mendes’s work they were analysing and not Yates. And even then I’m often unfair.  The protective/defensive response is such a strong reaction when it comes to Yates: we all feel we ‘own’ him and we all want him to be fully appreciated. I know, I’ve been one of the worst.

But time is passing and Yates’s work is in every book shop and that’s just fantastic. The film has added scores of readers some of whom will go on and read beyond Revolutionary Road and discover what an amazing short story writer he was too.

I’m back at work on my thesis trying to write a draft of my last chapter. It’s a struggle at the moment. I got side-tracked by the jamboree. I need to re-acquaint myself with Cold Spring Harbor and A Special Providence and so many of the stories in order to delve into Yates’s views about relationship – about childhood, motherhood, sad lonely fatherhood, about sex and impotence and finally what it is to be a man (oh god!).

So that’s where I am at the moment. Keep your comments coming. They always interest me and often help.

Libby Purves

Posted in Debatable issues, Uncategorized on February 9, 2009 by kateonyates

There is something breathtakingly arrogant about Libby Purves’s piece in today’s Times. I refer you to this link for the whole piece:

What shocks me is her absolute certainty that no one could have noticed Yates’s prescience but her. Ms Purves, he didn’t just anticipate the digital revolution but the whole sorry business of  engulfing materialism, the obsession with celebrity and, in so many ways, the equal rights of women. Have a read!

‘Well, it was probably just about worth making, and deserves its prizes. America in the Obama era – rediscovering its sense of hopeful revolution – may find it too dated to bother with. But for me the eye-opening moment was one that has not been noticed, not even (I suspect) by the film-makers. As the despairing wife plans her last act, she decides for once to be nice to Frank over breakfast. She makes scrambled egg and asks about his job. So he tries to explain the nature of these “business machines” his office sells – early computers – and on a napkin draws the vacuum tubes that lie at their heart. She feigns interest and tells him, insincerely, to be proud of his work.

But I sat bolt upright in the cinema seat and thought “Yess!” Because the huge unseen irony in the film is this: Frank’s dull commercial world was actually playing midwife to a revolution that would change the lives of millions of Western women who feel just as fed up, imprisoned and prone to Parisian fantasies as April did in 1955. Poor petulant kid, she was just born too early for the PC, the Mac, and the Internet. She could not have foreseen (who did?) that because of rapid development funded by companies like her husband’s, the computer would soon evolve from being a “business machine”, fall into the hands of fascinated hobbyists and inventive geeks, and thence move into the social mainstream. In the past ten years in particular home computers have been passionately embraced by women just like April, with no technical or scientific interest whatsoever.’

Perhaps I am being arrogant myself but it is galling to have someone clearly new to Yates suggest that he was extraordinary in ways that only she can see. I suggest you read some more Yates, LP.

Time to consider Leo

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on February 3, 2009 by kateonyates

‘Winslet is let down by her sparring partner, DiCaprio, who is badly miscast in this role. With that podgy babyface of his, he looks like a little boy dressed up in daddy’s suit. And when the Wheelers go into battle, the film displays a stiff theatricality that betrays Mendes’s roots in the stage.’ (

So says Cosmo Landesman in last w/e’s Sunday Times. Hmmm…….

I think this is unfair although I have to admit to thinking along similar lines all last year before I’d seen him as Frank Wheeler.  However, I think I was wrong. DiCaprio plays a difficult role extraordinarily well and in his rage there is none of the ‘stiff theatricality’ that Landesman is so ready to scorn at. In their major row – a row where everything is hurled and spirits are broken – DiCaprio is Winslet’s equal. In the office scenes Frank looks like a young buck next to the others: that’s because he’s supposed to. We have to be convinced that he could play this work game and win; he could make a choice to stay up there on the fifteenth floor and write memos and brochures. He could use his youthful energy to ‘good’ effect for the company if he chose to do so. The others are there because they’ve grown up there and have no choices left and Mendes uses the visual contrasts between the ravaged, hard-drinking men, and Leonardo’s younger face and body to illustrate that. He is after all, supposed to have ‘the unemphatic good looks that an advertising photographer might use to portray the discerning consumer of well-made but inexpensive merchandise (Why Pay More?).’ Just about perfect I’d have thought.

Ryan Gilbey, in the New Statesman ( writes the following:

It’s a standard gripe that DiCaprio is too boyish to play anyone not wearing short trousers and brandishing a slingshot, but like the complaint that policemen are getting younger these days, it tends to say more about the observer than the observed. DiCaprio looks as he should: like he just hit 30 and realised that he’s neither a kid nor the adult he always hoped to be. He wears defeat well.

I think this accords more with my view. What I would say is that this is not a film to see once, especially not if you are a Yates fan. You have to shed your preconceptions (first viewing) and then you notice so much more about how  successful Mendes is in conveying some of the book’s subtleties. Not all. But some…

America: is it a classless society?

Posted in Debatable issues on January 29, 2009 by kateonyates

‘Ideas in America spread very fast because Americans are of one mind, and they are of one mind because they are, in their consciousness at least, of one class. It is this feeling of classlessness, ahistoric though it be, that brings about the marvelous homogeneity of the American mind. And of the American emotion. The American feels – just “human.” He has arrived, in his mind, at a state of classlessness, i.e. of humanity, and so is touched off by those sentiments only that are universal, uniform, “human.”‘

I read this today in an essay – ‘Americanism as Surrogate Socialism’ – by someone called Leon Samson. I’m not sure when it was written but I would guess the early 70’s since the book it’s in was published in 1974. I just wondered what you American readers make of that? Is it true now? Was it ever an accurate depiction of how Americans see themselves? I’d appreciate your comments because it’s hard to judge the veracity of such claims from this distance (time and geography!).

The reason for asking is this: Yates was very clear about class divisions and would have agreed that Americans in the 50’s and 60’s were denying the facts about social stratification. I am using this essay, along with a number of others, to substantiate my claims about what was really going on.

A poor show in The Daily Telegraph

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 28, 2009 by kateonyates

This article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 27th January. I thought it was interesting that such a well-known figure in media circles took it upon himself to share such a gross mis-reading of both the text and the film. My response, which I sent to the paper, follows the article. They didn’t publish it I think because I should have sent it to his blog.

Charles Moore:

Revolutionary Road: It’s just snobbery to say the suburbs lack passion

It has long been considered the mark of a clever person, particularly a clever young person, to despise suburbia. Frank Wheeler, excellently played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a clever young man. He says that he wants “to feel things, really feel them”, and talks of “the whole idea of suburbia being to keep reality at bay”.

This makes life difficult for Frank and his beautiful, even more restless wife April (Kate Winslet), because they live in New York suburbia, in a road called, piquantly, Revolutionary Road. It is the early 1950s, and Frank commutes to the city for a salesman/head-office job which he endures only by turning it into a sort of joke. The couple have two little children, who very rarely cross their minds.

In the novel by Richard Yates from which the film derives, the suburban setting makes a deliberately uneasy contrast with the life of passion and truth which the couple seek, or think they seek: “The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy. Even at night, as if on purpose, the development held no looming shadows and no gaunt silhouettes. It was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves”. At the end of the film, when a tragedy has just occurred, a distraught Frank runs through the darkening streets, full of a drama to which they do not awake.

Unfortunately, though, films have a way of glamourising everything, and so, when DiCaprio is filmed on his daily commute and you see him and his behatted male commuters emerging in Grand Central Station, they look as exciting breasting the horizon as the Magnificent Seven. And the white-boarded house in Revolutionary Road looks so pleasant that one finds oneself agreeing with Mrs Givings, the loquacious, supposedly despicable bourgeois woman who sold it to the Wheelers, that it is an ideal home for a lovely young family. One just wants Kate and Leonard to stop fussing and settle down and have baby number three which, at a key, decisive moment, is discovered to be on the way.

April gets it into her head that Frank’s originality would blossom if he threw up his job and they went to Paris, where she could earn enough money by working as a secretary for Nato or something, and he could do nothing but “really feel”. Silly girl, I felt, can’t she see that this banal escape would achieve nothing, and that Frank would do much better to accept the promotion at work promised by charismatic Bart Pollock? It is hard to sympathise with the message of the film, which seems to be that April, more than anyone else, is brave, and seeks truth.

The novel, which is beautifully written, is rather cruel and condescending to the world it depicts, but at least it makes it clear that the true enemy is not suburbia in itself, but the tragic fact of life that the search for truth and authenticity can itself be untrue and inauthentic. For Yates, April, the one who searches the hardest, is the most unreal. She is always acting a part – being in love, feeling hatred, even being alive.

Perhaps because Kate Winslet is married to the director, Sam Mendes, the film misses this. With her lovely, neurotic looks, she is somehow in the right even if she seems in the wrong. The film reduces to the essentially snobbish point that the suburbs are full of boring people and we must all side with the beautiful and the damned against their nice neighbours, the stolid men and their desperately chattering wives.

So, when Frank uses April’s third pregnancy as an excuse for not going to Paris after all, and she rebels by illicitly and illegally aborting the child, the audience is encouraged to think that she is doing the authentic thing. If you live in Revolutionary Road, it seems to say, you aren’t really living, so it is braver to die.

My own bourgeois sensibility rose up against this. Why wasn’t April thinking about the children she was leaving and the child she was bearing? Why couldn’t she involve herself in some useful local activity? Was it really necessary to be so moody at parties? After the drama is over, Mrs Givings says that the Wheelers were “a bit whimsical” for the neighbourhood, and left “filthy smudges all around the doorknobs”. Hear, hear.

Why are creative people so down on the suburbs? We must all live somewhere, and the combination of urban convenience with rural verdure is what a great many people like. What a narrow view it is to think that life can only be free if you live in Paris, or Hampstead (very much a suburb when first patronised by artists) or a tumbledown cottage in the middle of nowhere. A great artist like Chekhov wrote superbly about how bourgeois people can feel stifled in their lives, but he was much too subtle and sympathetic to attribute this merely to their postcode.

Having lived only in London and in the country, perhaps I am taking an over-romantic view, but when I pass places like Croydon or Chislehurst on the train, I think of them as pullulating with interesting, secret life. Oh for a cinematic Betjeman to reveal this, and celebrate it.

This is my response:

I have to take issue with Charles Moore’s reading of Revolutionary Road, both the novel and the film. My ‘bourgeois sensibility’ also rises up when faced with an article which reveals the ending of a film not yet released in this country. Mr Moore’s piece in today’s Telegraph (January 27th) includes several mis-readings and one glaring contradiction. He correctly states that the novel makes it clear that ‘the true enemy is not suburbia’ and then devotes his last two paragraphs to addressing the question ‘Why are creative people so down on suburbia?’ It is also incorrect to say that ‘For Yates, April…is the most unreal.’ Has Mr Moore not noticed that our impressions of April are, by and large, filtered through Frank’s perspective? It is Frank Wheeler, and his self-delusions, that Yates works hardest to expose. Finally, both Sam Mendes and Richard Yates are at pains to show, in the character of Shep and Milly Campbell, that there are people who live happily in suburbia; they may not set the world alight but they are kind, full of neighbourly concern and keen to do the right thing.

So what do you all think?

An Interview with Sharon and Monica Yates

Posted in Debatable issues on January 25, 2009 by kateonyates

This is the link to an interview of Sharon and Monica Yates I did for The Times.

I hope you like it!

The Premiere in London Town

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 21, 2009 by kateonyates

As promised but I’ll keep it short…. Just as I was warned by my mate in LA, it was all a little disappointing, the glamour bit I mean. You hang about, you talk to each other because you have no idea who anyone is and they clearly haven’t discovered you, so that bit’s all a bit irksome. There was nice wine though at the pre-party in the St Martin’s Lane Hotel. Lots of buzz and noise and candles and cameras but no substance…..for me.

Then came the fun bit as we walked in the chill January air through the alleyways to Leicester Square. The place was just seething with people and with noise; I’ve never seen anything like it. All the trees in the square were lit up from below by white lights that swirled around making the trees look as if they were dancing in frost. The noise was extraordinary. We had to walk round the far side of the square to have our tickets checked and then up the red carpet. Now that was good fun; I can’t pretend three hundred (more? yes, much more) flashbulbs going off in my general direction is an every day occurance. It was even more extraordinary that everyone was screaming my name!

Kate and Leo both made short speeches before hand and then they rolled the film (perhaps people don’t ‘roll’ film anymore). The film was truly great. I enjoyed it so much more this time round mainly, I think, because I wasn’t nervously waiting to see whether criminal damage had been done to Yates’s work. I knew it hadn’t. It’s different, in places very different, but it’s good and Kate Winslet is really fantastic.

So there you are. That was it. Off to a bar with my husband to hear his views and they were all good. He was waxing lyrical about Sam Mendes for hours…..oh and one other thing, Yates’s name is in the credits. A friend had thought it wasn’t. It’s there!

Losing the Laurel Players

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 16, 2009 by kateonyates

I just can’t hold off any longer but am restraining myself to the beginning of the film and book. Apologies if you haven’t seen the film yet but go and judge for yourself how this ‘absence’ affects the story we receive.

The most glaring omission in the film is the play at the beginning. Every time I re-read Revolutionary Road I am struck anew by the brilliance, and in terms of the subsequent narrative, the importance of the writing in this chapter. Yates creates a marvellous piece of work here: it’s self-contained, would work as a short story and it informs us, quietly informs us, as to what he wants to say. The whole focus on theatricality is a prelude to his examination of social performance; the posing that he highlights with real humour but which he was, in all earnestness, keen to expose and hold up for a proper examination, is central to the narrative from the off. So, of course, the book is framed by two tragic performances from April (albeit two performances of a very different kind) and filled with so many performances from Frank and they begin, for us, that night as he arrives at the school hall/theatre ready to play his role as the husband of the beautiful, successful April Wheeler….only it doesn’t work out like that.

Missing out the play, as Mendes does, skews the story. We don’t get the nuances about ‘performance’ correctly, deeply….we only get suggestions and snippets….and it isn’t enough. Another thing that is missing is Yates’s brilliantly interwoven commentary on the individual versus the community. This was Eisenhower’s America and they were being fed a regular diet of ‘Let’s pull together now’ and Eisenhower’s own version of ‘Yes We Can’ (am I right?) so it is not incidental that Yates weaves in his own version of this. Look at the words of the director of the play – it’s all there: “Remember this. We’re not just putting on a play here. We’re establishing a community theater, and that’s a pretty important thing to be doing.” And then later we are given this: ‘The main thing, though, was not the play itself but the company – the brave idea of it, the healthy, hopeful sound of it: the birth of a really good community theater right here, among themselves.’ At this point, Yates seems to be drawing an ironic parallel with all that America wanted to be; the community theatre is America – just for a moment. It’s not heavy-handed or overworked but I think it’s there. So again, by removing the play, and all its permutations, you miss this.

In tandem with this emphasis on the hopefulness of community spirit and the stress on ‘it’ not being about individuals, you have a description of each of our protagonists which makes it clear that it is all about individuals: they can’t leave their egos behind/aside. Frank’s ego is writ large and so is the director’s. For a brief moment, at the dress-rehearsal, those poor players manage it. They experience a coming together, listening to each other, taking their cues, and they get it right. But Yates’s ironic description of how they felt so good afterwards warns us that this is somehow temporary and unsustainable: ‘”See you tomorrow!” they called, as happy as children, and riding home under the moon they found they could roll down their windows of their cars and let the air in, with its health-giving smells of loam and young flowers. It was the first time many of the Laurel Players had allowed themselves to acknowledge the coming of spring.’ It’s romantic; they are like children; its eager and that eagerness is somehow dangerous.

And then the director….the play falls apart because someone is ill and the director takes his part. The director, the one who stressed with such emphasis (wonderfully described by our Dick), is the one who lets them down. Why? Because he is too vain to go on stage without his glasses. So for all that talk about coming together and community it is this individual who creates the domino effect of collapse. He knocks the glass of water over and then all the timing goes. It is just so beautifully described. By taking that out we don’t pick up all Yates’s points about the struggle to be an individual and how to live in a [suburban] community.

The question is, could Mendes and Haythe have done it and not suffered for it? Monica (Yates) Shapiro was also sad about the absence of this iconic beginning. I interviewed her recently and, although she is very, very enthusiastic about the film, she acknowledged how she felt. (NB. these are her words; she is not quoting Sam Mendes and Scott Rudin):

Ohhh that’s such a sadness…. You know what they say about that, right? No,who? Scott and Mendes…about not having the play at the beginning? No. What do they say? They say that they had it, and they had it in there, but… that if you leave it there it makes it about a girl who wanted to be an actress and failed. If you put too much focus on something it takes the balance away from the forward direction of the story. Any reader is in love with that scene and would have loved to see it animated, up there. That’s the heartbreak because all the scenes you love don’t get to be animated but everyone that’s in there is basically animated just how you pictured it.

And this makes sense to me. However, I’ve been thinking about it a lot since and playing, ‘What if…’ with the whole thing. If Mendes had begun the film with play, maybe the end of the dress-rehearsal, including the director’s speech, then cut to the performance with emphasis on Frank’s face as it changes from pride and smugness to bewilderment and horror, then to the curtain call that we do see, the bit in the dressing room and them (so beautifully filmed), leaving the hall together but so apart and then, only then, roles the credits….then there is something self-contained and prologuish about this start. The film could, after the credits, begin in the present, weaving in the back story of their meeting later on, as a flashback. Admittedly, there would be ten minutes of film before the credits but that’s been done before hasn’t it?

I know it’s extraordinarily arrogant of me to suggest how Mendes might have done it better when I don’t know the first thing about film but, as you all know, I did dare to criticise his ending, to his face and he accepted that – I think!

A Response to a great post

Posted in Debatable issues on January 14, 2009 by kateonyates

Zhiv sent me this link today:,0,7489794.story

‘I went for a walk in the woods among the lakes of Yaddo, as flush with emotion as if I had written the book myself. In the company of such a masterwork, I felt one of the elect, irrationally and idiotically hoping the group would remain as small as possible.’

That is what he does! For those who ‘get’ Yates, he makes you feel you’ve written the book because, in a sense, you do. He forces you to use all your senses and to take part in the writing – we hear their arguments raging, we smell the coffee and bacon that last fateful morning, acting as a agonising evocation of calm, of comfort and fulfillment while inside we know, we feel, the desperation in April’s every encouraging smile and, of course, we see it all so clearly. Every picture is painted so perfectly – Maureen Grube’s flat where ‘everything swam in the vivid yellow light’; Shep Campbell’s polished shoes, glossy with hope and as shiny as his own self-belief (at this point) juxtaposed against something we all know too well – ‘the yellowed armpits of his T-shirt’.

The intimacy of Yates’s style, an intimacy that draws the reader in so quickly so that you are locked in their struggles, does I think come particularly from the dialogue-driven narratives. Slipping from one idiom to another so seamlessly, Yates forces you to hear all those different voices and their inflections and nervous hesitations and so you take part.  I think Lizzie is just about spot on.

Not a review of the film…..yet!

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 13, 2009 by kateonyates

In England Revolutionary Road, the film, has not yet been released so I am holding fire until after the 30th January before expressing my opinion. I thought I should explain my silence. Meanwhile, over on zhiv, there is a fantastic, long, detailed analysis worth pondering and responding to if you are keen to get going on this.

I am off to the London Premiere on Sunday; now there’s a treat in store. I’ll let you know how it goes. ‘Frankly, it’s analysis, not glamour pieces we want now!’ I hear you shouting. Tough.

Yates Reading

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2009 by kateonyates

All Yates’ fans will want to hear this….Yates reading ‘The Best of Everything’. Just wonderful. Click on the link within the article.

Happy New Yates Year

Posted in Debatable issues on January 8, 2009 by kateonyates

Just so that you don’t all think I’ve gone to sleep or broken my right arm skiing, I thought I should write a short post and let you know what’s going on around here. It’s been hectic….skiing was fun but cold and frankly I’m a rubbish skier.

At the moment I am working on something with Monica and Sharon Yates – more next week about this – so that’s exciting. I can’t really publicise it yet.

I have been reading a lot about Hollywood and politics in order to substantiate a hunch that I have. It’s been so interesting to read about the Production Code and the way Hollywood developed over the twenty years between the first talkie and the late fifties. It’s interesting that Yates chooses not to focus on the Semitic, or anti-Semitic, colouring of Hollywood when he writes about it – ‘Saying Goodbye to Sally’, ‘A Really Good Jazz Piano’ and Disturbing the Peace being the texts I’m thinking of – but focuses instead on the race issue in another form ie black and white not Christian and Jew. The upshot of this is the faint (well actually it’s more than faint) suggestion that Hollywood was built using corrupt money from slavery. This is obviously not the case and it puzzled me for a while. The racism he filters into these tales suggests moral degredation and perhaps that’s all he wanted to do without touching on the Jewish dominance of Hollywood and all the wrangling that that gave rise to. Too thorny an issue perhaps? Also it occurs to me that the big political debate when he was writing was predominantly Civil Rights so that’s why he weaves it in.

Any thoughts on this?

Happy New Year to all readers and let’s hope book sales now rocket even if car sales plummet.

The ending of Revolutionary Road: Suicide or accident?

Posted in Debatable issues on December 17, 2008 by kateonyates

I’m adding a plea here since this is easily the post most often read. Please read on!

Well, my journey towards my first goal is all but over; having handed in my thesis in February and had my Viva in May (in the UK everyone has to have a Viva), and having passed, I will graduate in July.

So that’s that. A chapter of a life complete and I do feel a sense of achievement though inevitably I wish I could have done it better – fewer split infinitives for one thing! Now, what you may well ask: perhaps I will try to turn it into a book. There should be interest bearing in mind schools and universities are teaching Yates.

This is where you come in. If you are a student (or a teacher) and have been dropping in on my blog, could you let me know what your school is (wherever it is): the name, the place and what you have been studying in the way of Yates. If I need proof he is being taught the more of you that do that the more proof I will have. I won’t publish your responses unless you want me to. I know DeWitt Henry has been teaching Yates at Emerson College in Boston and I know he is being taught at Ipswich School in the UK and at Sherborne School also in the UK but you will agree that that is hardly proof of anything. So please get back to me!

So how do we read the ending of Revolutionary Road? Yes, powerful, tragic, bold and uncompromising but what happens? Does April set out to abort their unwanted child knowing it will kill her or does she do it hoping it won’t? Yates seems to offer both possibilities side by side. I’ve already debated this briefly over email with Blake Bailey who comes down firmly on the side of a tragic accident but I veer towards reading this as suicide. She knew the date for a ‘safe’ termination was well past. She heard him rip into their marriage the night before. She had faced the hollowness of their union and laughed in his face. She sat up all night writing what seem to be ‘farewell’ letters to him while he drunkenly slept on. She prepares a farewell breakfast (or is it invested with the hope that a new beginning is about to start? – I don’t think so) and she takes a poignant interest in his dull job to throw him completely off the scent. But then, of course, there are her phone calls…why be so very upset when calling Milly if she didn’t think she was going to die? I know I sound hard-hearted but was an impending abortion traumatic enough to justify this degree of distress? Maybe. And yet we have Yates’s objective correlative to help position us here: ‘The cigarette broke and shredded in her fingers’. Is the sound of children playing so distressing because she knows she will never see hers again or is it that she just fears she won’t?

Then, after she has injected herself, why make that call for an ambulance? We have to presume it was her call – there was no one else there. Mendes/Haythe shows her calling; Yates doesn’t. Mendes, then, makes that decision clear; she is calling for help and wants to survive. Yates takes us in both directions at once but to my mind she intends to die even though her final, short note to Frank, ‘whatever happens’, suggests that she still intends to live….Frank, however, is certain it was a deliberate act – ‘She did it to herself, Shep. She killed herself.’

Your thoughts would help but I suspect Yates intended that we could never decide.

The end of the beginning

Posted in 2. Into the unknown on December 16, 2008 by kateonyates


I breezed through the H’s door after a walk about to the Lincoln Centre via Central Park picking up a latte on the way from my ‘local’ Starbucks on the corner of 95th street. Apart from fresh air (well, freezing NY air is fresh in a way), my purpose was to go and sort out a donor Guild Membership to the Metropolitan Opera for V and C as a thank you to them both. Sadly, perhaps because it was a Saturday, I couldn’t do it and had a long chat with J (husband) who is going to attempt the transaction by phone or email on Monday. I had a brief chat with F (smallest son) too which was a delight – just hearing his voice was magical and there is something so incongruous and absurd about walking down the side of Central Park, all ambulances and police and trucks honking, while connected to the kitchen in East Anglia.


It was bitterly cold so it was then back to 96th and Gourmet Garage to get some things for the evening, including a Key Lime Pie for the H’s supper party and some soup for by then I was starving.


The three H ‘kids’ were fully engaged in A’s attempt to make a film for some competition: they had 48 hours and some very specific rules to obey. Hilariously and weirdly they were using the theme of the Jewish custom to circumcise. Would I help them out by being the mother who has forgotten to circumcise her now fifteen yr-old son, played by O? We had a hilarious time improvising and attempting to make sense of what was frankly an absurd idea; I surprised them by being able to throw myself into the role of a ridiculous mother who, overhearing her son peeing, remembers to ask him whether or not he is circumcised. We were all hysterical with laughter including C who was working in the next door room. (Rumour has it that this film has been short-listed….OMG) More filming was done around the table.



The boys slept in until midday and then I took E shopping in central Manhattan. We found a very smart black coat and he was so thrilled. We also got some new jeans. There wasn’t then time for us to get to the MoMa (where there was a Van Gogh exhibition which I’d like to have seen and I also wanted to see the Hoppers) before I had to be back at the H’s to pick up a cab and get to the airport, so E and I had a Croque Monsieur by the Bryant Park Ice Rink. It was fantastic – a lovely last chat all smiles and warmth. We had a such a big hug and then parted. My final image of him was his big grin…..

Back to the horror of airports and the slow check in and then, a few hours later, the joy of being home.

My Revolutionary Road

Posted in 2. Into the unknown on December 11, 2008 by kateonyates


I have started to behave like a New Yorker; sitting in a cafe now near Grand Central station having just come off the Hartsdale train and here I am with my coffee to go (except I’m staying) and my computer screen up and running. It’s strange how you adapt and what would have been near unthinkable for me in London has become acceptable. Ricardo (my cousin)  keeps telling me I apologise too much and I definitely do carry this sense of creeping deference, for want of a better term; I’ll exist so long as it doesn’t trouble you if I do. This is clearly ridiculous but is a hangover from my childhood sense that we were always bothering the adults and had to apologise our way in to existence. E (my brother) doesn’t have this problem; quite the reverse. He is just there and ‘deal with it’ everyone else. My children don’t have it thank goodness; they are fortunate to have such a strong father.

My boots are being mended in Grand Central so that is why I am killing time. I think I will go to Times Square after I’ve collected my boots and check out tonight’s venue. I finally heard from Monica this morning telling me what the timetable is for tonight. Drinks before the film start at 6.30 at this place in Times Square (I think, from looking at the map it’s the Paramount Building), then the film itself starts at 7 followed by a dinner at nine o’clock but I have no idea where that is – maybe it’s all there. It amuses me that Monica said in her email not to dress up and that she will be in jeans; she points out, clearly thinking I’m from Hicksville, that celebs don’t dress up anymore. So I think I will don my black velvet jacket (thank goodness I brought it) and my black jeans – that way I should fit either the ‘up’ or the ‘down’ code.

I went back to the H’s and was a bit startled to find Cheryl there, only because I hadn’t expected it. We had a brief chat and then she went out to keep her Friday date with her daughter, S – they always go and do something on a Friday afternoon which I thought was lovely. Meanwhile I was feeling decidedly sick about my forthcoming evening. I did some work, typing up notes and then had a shower and got ready. V returned just before I left and we had a glass of wine together which was a good nerve-calmer.

I made my way to Times Square and thanked god I had checked out the venue earlier in the afternoon. The streets were so crowded you could barely see anything and had to keep moving with the herd. I found 1515 Broadway and 44th but it was a bit early so I hung around and had an inevitable cigarette before braving the escalators. I felt horribly alone and needed someone to giggle with/share it with. At the top I was checked off a list and then directed to some lifts and told to go to the third floor. Once the doors opened we were in a corridor with enormous black and white photos of some big name stars all over the walls – Tom Cruise, Marilyn, Bogart etc. It immediately felt like another, very separate, world. There were a few people hanging about and I tried to guess who might be Monica but soon realised people were arriving and going straight in so I followed suit. Monica and Sharon then came in and, having walked down to the front, gave a short Address about their father. Monica seemed especially emotional. I had no idea who was in the auditorium but I correctly assumed, or at least I think I did, that they were all journalists with their partners.

Then the film started. What an exciting moment. What did I think? This is hard to answer but is all, understandably, anyone wants to know. I liked the fact that Haythe had incorporated so much of what RY gave his characters to say. I was very unnerved that the film didn’t begin with the Laurel Players’ play but the reasoning was good as they used the time to fill in back story about the couple. The Kate/Leo dynamic was extraordinarily strong. Their arguments were visceral, unnerving, uncomfortable, just as they should be in fact. (A friend of mine who has since seen the film in London felt Leo wasn’t right and felt strongly that their accents weren’t right either. While I didn’t think Leo was as ‘convincing’ as Kate I thought they were so good together that I didn’t mind. I didn’t even notice the accents. I need to see it again now.) Michael Shannon, who plays John Givings, was extraordinarily good but it did trouble me, as it doesn’t in the book, that the mad man who speaks the truth is a bit of a cliché. Why doesn’t that seem such a problem in the novel? My main criticism was the very last shot – the camera should have pulled away from his face and showed her silent mouth going up and down – well, that’s what I though. Costumes were amazing and the sets just right. It is too hard to be objective about this film. I need to consider it more and maybe see it again.

After the film, and I still hadn’t uttered a word to anyone but at least I now knew who Monica was and who Sharon was, we were taken in blacked-out SUVs to a club called the 21 Club. It was freezing cold and very exciting: both things made me shiver. Once in the club, we climbed stairs to be greeted by friendly young women with our names on a clip-board. At first it looked as if I might not make it through the door as she couldn’t find my name but when I said I was there because of Monica she broke into a smile and said, to my amazement, ‘Oh, you are with Monica. In that case you are on table eight, Monica’s table.’ ‘Are you sure?’ I stammered. Yes, she was sure. Wow! I grabbed a white wine and moved into the room which was slowly filling up. Deciding to be brave, and telling myself to ‘get on with it – this is what you are here for girl’,  I introduced myself to a very large, important looking man. He couldn’t have looked less thrilled and was, luckily for him, rescued by a fawning woman. It transpired he was rather important. He is the main film journalist at the New York Times. Anyway I had ‘picked-up’ a youngish man who was very entertaining. He spent a great deal of time watching English rubbish – Coronation Street, X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity…; the list went on and on. We laughed – he at my snobbery and me at his low-brow taste. He was there with his boyfriend, also a journo at the NY Times, I think.

I became aware of a buzz in the room and suddenly, right next to me, was Kate Winslet looking incredible in a fifties style jacket (cream) with big black patent belt, tight black pencil skirt and high black open-toed shoes. With her hair up and her bright red lips she looked every inch a film star and the whole room seemed to part around her. Behind her was a very grey-haired looking Sam Mendes and behind him the enormously tall Michael Shannon. I was a bit taken-aback but recovered enough to continue chatting to my gay ‘friend’. He then moved off and I started another conversation with a very nice guy called Scott Feinstein who is the chief publicist for the film. He immediately put me into his Blackberry and sent me an email. So that’s how it works in NY, or is it in America? Our chat was interrupted by the call to sit to eat. I was nervously awaiting my supper with Monica.

I found table 8. It seemed to be filled with women who had quite obviously had ‘work’ done; by work I mean Botox. Their top lips were stiff to the point that you hoped no one made them laugh or the damn lips would crack into pieces. I sat rather forlornly and feeling very out of place when Monica came and sat down next to me. Tall, thin, bespectacled, full-lipped (like her Pa), she was also smiley and a bit distracted. I introduced myself and she instantly relaxed. It was great. I couldn’t quite believe I was next to her. She then introduced me to the woman on her left (obviously an old friend) and this woman, Kathleen, turned out to be an old pupil of ‘Dick’s’. The three of us had such fun just chatting as if we’d always known each other – they obviously had met through Dick and I rather muscled in on their familiarity. They talked about his teaching style, his kindness, his squalor – nothing I didn’t know but it was all good to hear directly. We discussed the film. Monica is so positive about it which is great. Obviously for his daughters, in upping the profile of RY, money looks likely to roll in for them. It did strike me as ironic that this is what he had worked for all his life – to earn money for his daughters; he’s managed it now, in death.

We ate steak and drank delicious wine. The party slowly started to disperse so I said goodbye to my two new friends and was about to leave when I spotted Sharon. I went over and introduced myself and she invited me to sit with her. She was lovely. Tall, grey bobbed hair and with a charming, warm smile, she was definitely very different to Monica (Gina, the youngest who lives in New Mexico, wasn’t there). Sharon is a librarian in Brooklyn. I met her middle-school teacher husband and then her daughter Sonia who came to join us. They asked about my work and were excited about it. Sonia then said she had a plan to make a documentary about her grandfather and would I like to be involved. No surprises as to how I answered. Another moment when I had to pinch myself. Who knows if anything will happen and whether I will be invited to be involved if it does, but it was a great feeling, a feeling as if I was inching, no, rushing, closer and closer to the heart of the matter. I left them to go, got my coat and had walked out into the freezing night air when I spotted a group of smokers in a little terrace place, fenced off from the street and below street level; it occurred to me that a cigarette was a good idea. As I walked down the steps to join the five or six smokers I realised that one of them was the guy who played Shep Campbell and another was Kate W.

Again, I had to be brave. I introduced myself to the young man talking to ‘Shep’, and Shep was desperate to go inside, so the two of us got talking. He was none other than the screenplay writer, Justin Haythe and he was delightful. He did a good impression of being interested in my work so we had a good chat. I, of course, congratulated him on his work and on retaining so much original dialogue. Then, as we moved off to leave, I found myself next to Kate. I didn’t introduce myself but started by telling her (yes, a bit cheesy) how brilliant she was (and she was) in the film. She took my arm and looked thrilled and, as she continued to hold my arm I said, ‘I need to tell you, Kate, we have three things in common: We are both called Kate, we are both English and my husband is in love with us both.’ She roared with laughter and gripped my arm rather tightly in doing so. At that moment Sam came to claim her. I introduced myself to him and he beamed at me. I told him I had been very nervous about the film. ‘You wouldn’t believe how many people have told me not to ‘fuck it up’!’ he said. ‘It was as if I was directing everyone’s private diary or something.’ I then got my brave face on and asked him whether he wanted to hear my one criticism. He visibly braced himself but, grinning, said, ‘Go on then.’ So I told him they should have pulled back from Richard Easton’s face at the end and shown Kathy Bates’s jaw going up and down, her hand still repeatedly stroking her dog and no audible sound heard. They had left the last shot on Easton’s eyes. ‘Damn it!’ he said. That either meant I’d caused huge offence or he thought that maybe it was a reasonable idea. He shook my hand, grinned again and, calling to his wife, they left in a waiting limo. (I squirm at my audacity and arrogance now; aagh!)

I then walked up the street to find a yellow taxi, lesser mortal that I am, completely thrilled with my extraordinary day.

Meeting Richard Yates’s Biographer

Posted in 2. Into the unknown on December 5, 2008 by kateonyates


Steve (my host) very kindly drove me out to Logan Airport at 7ish in the morning, with the air crisp and cold and clean. I checked in and had a Starbucks (and that alone made me feel American but why, oh why, is there no coffee in an American Starbucks? I miss proper coffee…), and then made my way to the gate for boarding. It was an unadventurous flight except that there was a sweet young couple, six months pregnant with their second child, who were travelling with their two year-old son to Texas as an early Thanksgiving departure. He, the dad who was a pilot, wasn’t going the whole way but was there to assist as far as our first stop in Philadelphia. It was lovely to watch their intoxication in everything their son did or said or intimated. This does of course sound so patronizing but how can I express my genuine delight at their parental love and shared joy at this small child’s antics? It reminded me so much of travelling with E. back and forth from Japan, thinking everyone wanted to hear his little jokes repeated, his witticisms relayed back and forth to the strangers kind enough to listen on the plane – their joy was so infectious and I too ended up genuinely delighted in the fact that he was looking for whales in the water outside Philadelphia (where we saw quite a lot of water) and his duck noise was sublime!

I landed in Virginia, Norfolk, to be exact just about 12.30 and got a cab to Tabb’s restaurant, as directed by Blake Bailey who was to meet me there. Tabb’s is a southern ‘shack’ in that it is a one story, one roomed, low-ceilinged café type place – very homely. There was some poor cultural exchange when I said to the cab driver to take a tip from a twenty dollar bill (explaining first that I had no idea how to tip) and he kept the whole bill – all twenty dollars of it, from a fare of thirteen dollars twenty. I could hardly say, actually I didn’t mean keep the lot. I rang Blake and five or ten minutes later he came running (yes, running, like someone late for their stage cue) into the restaurant with all the energy of a young boy. He was immediately likeable, very tactile, a little flirtatious (but no more than I am) and thoroughly engaged with my ‘project’. We gossiped to begin with as we ate, about all sorts of things and all sorts of people. It was idle and fun and bonding as most gossip tends to be. He explained that he and his wife and child are Hurricane Katrina victims and moved north after that disaster. While I was sad to hear about that, I was devastated when the full implications of this sank in; lots of Yates’s letters and other valuable papers were lost in Katrina’s wrecking power. Awful. I heard a little bit about Blake’s Cheever biography – due to be published in March (he later showed some real astonishment when I started to discuss The Wapshot Chronicle with him – ‘D’you mean you’ve read some Cheever too? Now I am impressed’ – or words to that effect). (Now that Blake has since told me his present project I have come to the very safe conclusion that he specializes in the f***** up lives of alcoholic men of the mid-twentieth century. He agrees. This is his domain, his speciality. Kate)

After we had eaten – and the fare was very southern with lots of fried fish of various kinds – and I had a side salad and then ‘rockfish in lime butter with French fries’ which was a special – we got down to business. I used my voice recorder and started asking my questions. Blake was very accommodating, kind and interested: his big point was that I shouldn’t get distracted by biography (and questioned even why I was seeing him – good question. Answer: for the gossip!) and I agreed that it was a temptation I was realizing every day anew that I would have to avoid – especially now that I’ve left the archive and moved into the realm of ‘connections’. We talked about Yates’s ability to fuse different perspectives and about the film and about the Twayne book which Blake agreed was very fine. I should add that Blake seemed genuinely delighted, and a little surprised, when I produced my copy of A Tragic Honesty for him to sign. ‘Oh my god! Look at the state of that! That’s what all writers want to see,’ he laughed as he took my tattered copy from my hand. Bits of paper were sticking out from its pages, the front cover is none too tidy and post-stick notes fell out.

I had two hours to kill at the very quiet airport of Norfolk Virginia and it was annoying that I couldn’t get internet access there. Flew from there to La Guardia and then fell through my friends’ door in Manhattan at about 7.45pm. We had a lovely supper during which I heard from O about his desire to act and the performing arts school he goes to, from S about soccer and from V and C about life in general and how their older boy is enjoying Brown. I slept in A’s (college-student) room and was asleep pretty fast.

Last day in the Archive

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 4, 2008 by kateonyates

I woke up early, scribbled a few things down, answered some emails and the off to BU for my last trip to the archive. It was a less productive day today which in some ways was good because it made me feel that I had got the timing of my trip just about right; it was an impossible thing to judge from back home. How many days will I need? How much do sixteen boxes hold? Would I want a day a box? I looked again at Uncertain Times, at some of his letters again a) because they’re useful and b) because they’re often hilarious – and also at Lie Down in Darkness. I’d forgotten what a good Introduction George Bluestone wrote for that.

I left the archive after about three and a half hours – not so much as a blink from the large lady in the corner. And here I was thinking I was important! I was sad that ‘my’ archivist, Charlie, was out when I left because I wanted to say goodbye to him. He is a petrol head and had somehow discovered my brother writes about Formula One – oh yes, he’d spotted my birthplace in my passport which I had to hand in each day. ‘Oh, Nigel Mansell country?’ he said quizzically on the first day. So, every day, when I had to sign in and write in who my archivist was, I put a different F1 driver. Well, it amused him.

Just before I went, I had a copy made of the first two pages of Revolutionary Road – written in pencil and full of crossings out. It was a sort of sentimental thing. So pleased I did it though. I’ll frame them one day, tattered though they are…..

I rushed back to Brookline, began my packing by chucking things around and hoping they hit an open case, wrote another email to Monica asking, bravely (rudely??) whether I might possibly just sneak in at the back of Friday night’s screening. My friend in LA was shouting at me to ‘Get ON with it, Kate! Stop being so hesitant….just do it!’ Well, he didn’t say any of that but that’s what he meant and, as usual he was right. Then it was time for my last meeting with DeWitt. I rushed out, got on the T line to Bolyston and hoped my little recording device would work. It did.

We had just over an hour together and he was great and so patient. I wish I’d read his own book, The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts, but I can’t pretend I have and he’d know if I was pretending anyway. Sadly, I don’t think I was really ‘on the ball’ as I felt rather weak and jaded however we covered quite a lot of ground about Yates and the ‘mess’ of the Ploughshares interview and how difficult it was….dogs, people, coming in and out, RY’s shyness and reluctance and yet it remains such a great piece. I suggested that they re-issue the Ploughshares interview, unexpurgated. He seemed interested in the notion but didn’t think Ploughshares would be interested in doing it. We then discussed Yates’s screenplays with obvious emphasis on Lie Down in Darkness but DeWitt was talking about Iwo Jima as well. I haven’t seen that screenplay; where is it? He talked too about the difficulties Yates had in getting published, despite the enormously powerful figure of Sam Lawrence behind him. We talked about the number of people now ‘coming out’ as Yates enthusiasts DeWitt told me, for instance, that Woody Allen was an early fan. We then discussed the untapped area of humour in Yates – it pervades everything.

Now to sort out my day for tomorrow: Virginia here I come!

Thoughts about what Yates wanted, physically, in a woman………

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 3, 2008 by kateonyates

DeWitt told me that when Richard Yates was in Alabama, at the end of his short life, and dying from emphysema, there was a young woman who looked after him. She told DH that RY had proposed to her but then, seeing her square ankles, had withdrawn the proposal. There is a real ‘leg’ obsession in his work. In the unpublished screenplay ‘The World on Fire’, Harold, the husband, toys with an affair with his secretary whose ‘legs aren’t bad at all’; this seems to decide it for him! Yates, it seemed, liked long, shapely legs, with small ankles, and petite, pert breasts. I offer no comment.

DeWitt and I discussed impotence, as it emerges in Yates’ work and as it may or may not have afflicted him – since he always wrote about what he knew, it seems likely: if abortion is his metaphor for the 1950’s, is his metaphor for the writer impotence? Just a thought I had. It emerges in Uncertain Times as I saw in the archive today, in The Easter Parade and in Young Hearts Crying. Obviously this is an issue I will have to give some attention to in my forthcoming PhD.

Handling his papers today and firstly still being able to detect the faint whiff of nicotine – yes, I smelt the papers – coming across more coffee stains amongst his Uncertain Times papers, phone numbers scrawled down the side or across the bottom of a page he’s working or ‘thinking’ on. It made RY step forward out of the folders of paper. I read a lot of interesting stuff today including the transcripts of the Ploughshares interview with lots of good bits that have been cut out about novels versus movies about the role of the writer and much more besides. Need to know if I can use this and will have to ask DeWitt.

Went, on foot, to the Museum of Fine Art tonight and had two lovely hours there.

I bumped into a lovely 19 yr old who was a bit bored of pacing the floor with maps so she took me on a personal tour. Fantastic. We had such a giggle. I saw two lovely Hoppers – same spirit as Yates – the shadows, the lonely girls, the late-night bars and urban scenes. Lots of lovely Singer-Sergeants though I can only manage a few at a time of those. There was a fantastic exhibition of an amazing photographer called Yousef Karsh; I didn’t know of him though a few of the pictures looked familiar. Just stunning pictures. Really great ones of Einstein, Hemingway, Albert Schweitzer, George B. Shaw, Audrey Hepburn and on and on but the best, by far (I thought) was one of Jacques Lipchitz, a sculptor who then did an amazing bust of YK which was there too. Reluctantly I dragged myself away from all that and went to the Japanese exhibition which was rather more somber but very special.

I had a Thai meal in Kenmore Sq spitting distance from Yates’s old homes; I sat and re-read ‘Builders’ – really an incredible story and a story which seems to hold the key for so many others. Then walked ‘home’; another half an hour in lovely mild warmish weather although it was dark and wet underfoot.

Another day on the trail

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 2, 2008 by kateonyates


I spent all day in the archive and heard, yes heard, the Ploughshares interview on tape. I have heard Yates read snippets of his work before but this was wholly different. The man himself, drawing deeply on a cigarette, before laconically answering a question in his deep, throaty, almost actorly drawl with poor consonants and another drag and a glass clunking down on the table by him and then obviously retrieved again. It was amazing to hear it. On a next door table a studious very thin gentleman with bifocals was pouring over Alastair Cook’s papers. Now he looked like an academic. I felt rather shambolic by comparison – hair up, hair down, glasses on, glasses off, paper everywhere, ear phones, boxes, white gloves on and off – he barely moved. So I worked from 9.30 through to 4, rushed back here for a shower and then off again.


I had no idea what to expect at Emerson but DeWitt was so welcoming and actually so were the students. DH started by introducing me and making me feel very welcome; he then showered me with gifts – a copy of his book (which was both kind and needed since I’d dropped the Amazon copy I had bought under my plane seat), a copy of the latest edition of Ploughshares edited by James McPherson, an article by McPherson on race and identity, a photo of ‘Dick’ to look at (which he subsequently photocopied for me) and finally a copy of the Lie Down in Darkness Screenplay. The students were very responsive and encouraging. We then talked about zhiv – he later read out extracts from zhiv’s latest piece on Saying Goodbye to Sally and some discussion of how zhiv and I had ‘met’ through Yates. There was a long discussion of ‘Builders’ which was really interesting and during which DH kept returning to the marriage we were reading about – easy to gloss over that; eventually we moved on to SGtS, which is where zhiv ‘came into the room again’, and then various other stories including one by Salinger (which I didn’t know) one by Malamud, one by Cheever (which I did know) and a couple of others.


DH’s teaching style made me want to ask him whether Richard Yates was similar – very calm, arms crossed, taking it all at a measured pace, time to think and ponder and cross-reference – or was Yates more like me – pacing about, in a bit of a rush (well, I only have an hour with 2nd yr undergrads as opposed to his long luxurious class with postgrads.), throwing out questions and trying not to get diverted.


After the three and a half-hour class with his MA students, DeWitt and I went to he Crossroads but there was nowhere to park so he drove me to Harvard to show me the pub where Ploughshares started; it was heaving and very noisy so we found a beer in some dive and then went out into the drizzle so that we could speak. I asked him about why he wasn’t better read in his lifetime (Dick, I mean, my mate Dick). We covered quite a lot of ground, with some good tales about RY and his mad bad behaviour, but, understandably, DH was very tired and it was time to go.


The most exciting thing happened just as we were leaving. He was saying that RY regarded himself as an experimentalist and that no one else did and that people didn’t really understand what he meant by that. I could hardly contain my glee. ‘But I do,’ I said like an excited third former. ‘What do you mean?’ and so I gave him a brief run through of my ideas about Yates pulling and pushing the realist form to incorporate narrative driven by dialogic exchange, endings which challenge rather than confirm and demand that the reader works and gets involved with the ‘telling’, political and social comment that is there but often barely noticeable – the issues of slavery, feminism, civil rights. Yes, a realist at heart but it diminishes him to rest with that term.


When I got back to my ‘home’ in Brookline I picked up an email from Monica Yates/Shapiro who is going to be hosting a special screening of the film next Friday. She suggests we meet on Saturday. I am supposed to be in Westchester then with my cousin. Desperate to be brave enough to ask to see the film but really not sure if I am. Not sure what to do about that.


{Nice review of DeWitt’s book Safe Suicide:}

Dismembering the American Dream: the Life and Fiction of Richard Yates

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2014 by kateonyates

Today is a wonderful day. Ten copies of my book, Dismembering the American Dream arrived in the post, in a box in a sack, actually. I wonder if the person who delivered them had a long white beard and a scarlet tunic.

It looks wonderful and I am completely thrilled: it’s been a long haul. Sadly, the price tag is high and I’m concerned that the graduates and undergraduates (for whom it was intended) will find it prohibitive. Buy lots of copies, those of you who can afford to, and tweet like crazy!

Big thanks to all of you for taking an interest but especially to DeWitt Henry and Alex Siskin for their helpful, incisive comments for so many years.

I hope you can get your hands on a copy (publication date is August 30th 2014: Alabama University Press) and I hope you enjoy it.


Finally, a book is approaching…..

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2014 by kateonyates

Dear Yates fans,

I have been very quiet on here, for which many apologies. But the good news is that I have been concentrating my efforts on the book and, if all goes to plan, it will be published by Alabama University Press on August 30th 2014. Sweating blood over the index right now!

Look out for Dismembering the American Dream: the Life and Fiction of Richard Yates 

You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

All the best,