Reality Check

Now that I am firmly ensconced back in the real world and I have had a chance to reflect on my incredible two weeks, I realise more and more what an extraordinary adventure it was. I fluctuate between thinking that this and that might happen – contacting Sonia Yates about the documentary idea, for instance, or following up an idea suggested with great enthusiasm by a guy I knew at Cambridge to work on a Radio 4 programme about Yates, or just getting articles published – but reality kicks in and reminds me that I have to adjust my sights back down to earth: there is a strong feeling in me that my ‘American Experience’ happened in another sphere. There is a sense in which anyone and everyone interested in Yates is now bouncing about like someone on speed; the excitement of seeing his name regularly in print or on the screen is an intense and deeply-felt pleasure. Having said that, it reminds me that I ‘own’ nothing in this world; I just happen to be yet another person interested and enthusiastic but that’s all and I have to ‘get real’ here.

At the moment the power lies with film and it has to run its course…..I am interested to see what the global reaction will be and even more interested to know how this will affect sales of Yates’s work. Who will now read Yates? Will young people be encouraged to buy his books or will they be content to rest with the film (they so often are)? They might even be put off by it? Even though I think it is extremely powerful and the performances are excellent, something key is missing. I’m not sure what that is….it might be something tangible like the back-story since they only supply a small amount but I think it’s that the way Yates fuses humour with catastrophe, insight with bloody-mindedness, ambition with selfishness; Yates presents a double-sided view every time and, it seems to me, about pretty much everything. He wants us as readers to work and so supplies no easy answers. The film, on the other hand, can’t avoid making decisions and those decisions immediately reduce the impact of what is extraordinarily powerful on the page. The lack of humour is, I think, the biggest problem.

Next term I will be teaching Revolutionary Road. My students are keen and it seemed mad not to. I know DeWitt Henry teaches Yates to his students at Emerson College but I wonder how many others have tackled this author. His old students from Iowa, perhaps – well, those who became teachers?

So what next for this blog? I want to have a go at debating some of the tricky areas of Yates’s work and will start next time with the ending of Revolutionary Road. Look away now if you haven’t read it yet…..


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