Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cold Spring Harbor, by Richard Yates

No, I did not steal it from a library.  The Pasco County Library in Holiday, FL gave it to Better World Books, who sold and shipped it to me in Kuala Lumpur.  As the loan card is as empty as a plain girl's dance card, I assume that Richard Yates doesn't appeal to Floridian readers' tastes.  As for me, I am relishing the physical aspects of this book -- the clear cellophane cover, the typewritten library card, the hard cover and gorgeous paper.  The mere thought of a lending library.  [insert deprived sigh here]  Another thing I love about used books is that they often come with previous readers' bookmarks in them.  An Aspen ski pass.  A receipt from a Buenos Aires book shop.  A Turkish railway ticket.  This book didn't come with one -- that's one of my Malaysian Philharmonic tickets marking my place. I'll leave it there, tucked into the pages for the next reader, wherever in the world he or she might be.

I read Yates' Revolutionary Road before the film came out.  Yates has an almost cult-like following amongst contemporary American novelists, and it's well-deserved.  Whether or not you saw the film, and no matter what you thought of it, read the book.  The back-story gives a psychological depth to the characters that the film could not; it made their actions more understandable, more tragic, more appalling, and more recognisable as ordinary.  The book also turned me into a Yates cult member.  I ordered four more of his novels from Better World Books.

Cold Spring Harbor is his ninth novel.  I've not yet finished it, but it's another example of his insight into the thwarted, frustrated, entrapped psyche of some American men in past decades.  (Has it changed?  Probably not.)  In the case of Evan Shepard, passivity seems to have set in early:

He was twenty-three now, still working in the factory and living in his parents' house, and his father had long suspected he was following the course of least resistance: to break out of it would have required ambition, and there didn't yet seem to be a trace of that quality in his character. Delinquency may once have threatened to possess the boy, but now a pure lassitude was gathering to engulf the man.  
I adore the last sentence -- the image of lassitude as a menacing force which will drag a helpless, hapless Evan into a life of ennui.

Yates doesn't spare his female characters.  Evan's mother-in-law is a fifty-ish divorcee, prone to unfortunate bouts of garrulous flirtation after one sherry too many.

And she gave him a loose smile of lipstick and stained teeth.  There was probably nothing to be done about a woman like this. Dying for love might be pitiable, but it wasn't much different, finally, from any other kind of dying.

My friend Rose and I used to assure each other that our next book -- yes, our very next book -- would have a pink cover.  Chick lit, in other words, where the girl gets the boy,  and the credit card is never maxed out.  Richard Yates novels do not have pink covers.  They are the antithesis of chick lit.  They're undeniably gloomy, but they are insightful and scathing and relentlessly real.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I've never read Richard Yates before though I've heard of him. I must say I like the way he strings his sentences together. I'll definitely lookout for Cold Spring Harbour or Revolutionary Road in ebook version once I'm done with the current one I'm reading. :)


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