Life after the film

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.

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2 Responses to “Life after the film”

  1. Sarah Nichols Says:

    I have just lately come upon your blog and I would like to tell you how glad I am that there are others in the world so devoted to keeping the work of Yates alive. Six years ago, I read the New York Times Book review of a Tragic Honesty. I had never heard of Richard Yates.

    The extraordinary pain that filled his life, and his ability–genius–to transmute that into art, moved me to read his work. Since then, I have worked to get others to read him too, with only one success very recently. And it did feel like something akin to having a friend convert to one’s own religion!

    I have just started re-reading Young Hearts Crying, and what strikes me is the absolute terror that Michael Davenport seems to feel about his “manhood.” Or, more precisely, his terror at being thought of as less than anything but “manly.”; the very stereotypical, narrow view of what a man “should” be.
    Variations of this appear throughout the whole of Yates’s work, and it is somehow more subtle, and not so tinged with this level of fear. I recall from a Tragic Honesty that this theme, like so much else, is rooted in Yates’s sense of himself. But is there more ?

    I am also comparing this perception of one’s masculinity to the way this theme is so frequently played out in the work of Philip Roth, and I’d be very interested to hear if you have any thoughts on that.

    I wish you the best of luck with your dissertation.

  2. kateonyates Says:

    Thanks for your comment Sarah. It is always great to have new voices join in such a positive way.

    You are right: the issue of manhood, of who he was, is played out in all his fiction. Right now I can’t think of any exceptions. Different issues occur but the main issue is always the same: how to ‘negotiate’ himself as a writer, as a man, as a son to both a mother (always a tricky, social-climbing, individual dependent on alcohol and dreams and usually smothering in her love) and a father (always distant, unknown, gentle and kind but dominated by the mother), as a lover, and as a father.

    I’ve just re-read Cold Spring Harbor and it so much about this, about being a teenage boy deeply uncomfortable with himself, his mother, and with sex. I am now re-reading A Special Providence and similar issues occur but he’s older. He gently mocks his own way of coping and surviving – I think his honesty as a writer is so appealing – so here (I can’t resist a snippet) he is the star of his own film, just like Frank Wheeler:
    ‘Feeling manly and pleasurably proletarian as he clumped home every night in his work clothes, he saw himself as the hero of some inspiring movie about the struggles of the poor.’
    How great is that? He’s in a thirties film and he’s going to conquer the Depression. Marvellous.

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