Richard Yates faced some formidable obstacles: a broken home, tuberculosis, rampant alcoholism, divorce (twice), lack of recognition and manic depression - a combination that sent him, as he put it, 'in and out of bughouses'. Even his triumphs seemed only to cause further distress. Though his first novel, Revolutionary Road (1961), was a critical success, sales were wretched, and he spent most of his working life in its shadow. He wrote screenplays in Hollywood, but none of his scripts was ever produced. He worked as a speech-writer for Robert Kennedy, a career cut short by JFK's assassination. Recently, there has been a considerable resurgence of interest in his writing, previously limited to a small but dedicated following among writers such as Richard Ford, Stewart O'Nan and Michael Chabon. This came ten years too late for Yates, who died of emphysema and complications following minor surgery in 1992. His fiction is closely modelled on his own experiences and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a miserable place. The Easter Parade (1976) begins: 'Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed as if the trouble began with their parents' divorce.' This line could be a motto for his work, which uses unremarkable language to great effect - here registering a disappointment so pervasive that even its expression is bathetic.
LRB 6 February 2003 | PDF Download