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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

He writes like this:

For a little while when Walter Henderson was nine years old he thought falling dead was the very zenith of romance, and so did a number of his friends. Having found that the only truly rewarding part of any cops-and-robbers game was the moment when you pretended to be shot, clutched your heart, dropped your pistol and crumpled to the earth, they soon dispensed with the rest of it – the tiresome business of choosing up sides and sneaking around – and refined the game to its essence. It became a matter of individual performance, almost an art. One of them at a time would run dramatically along the crest of a hill, and at a given point the ambush would occur: a simultaneous jerking of aimed toy pistols and a chorus of those staccato throaty sounds – a kind of hoarse-whispered “Pk-k-ew! Pk-k-ew!” with which little boys simulate the noise of gunfire. Then the performer would stop, turn, stand poised for a moment in graceful agony, pitch over and fall down the hill in a whirl of arms and legs and a splendid cloud of dust, and finally sprawl flat at the bottom, a rumpled corpse. When he got up and brushed off his clothes, the others would criticize his form (“Pretty good,” or “Too stiff,” or “Didn’t look natural”), and then it would be the next player’s turn. That was all there was to the game, but Walter Henderson loved it. He was a slight, poorly coordinated boy, and this was the only thing even faintly like a sport at which he excelled. Nobody could match the abandon with which he flung his limp body down the hill, and he revelled in the small acclaim it won him. Eventually the others grew bored with the game, after some older boys had laughed at them. Walter turned reluctantly to more wholesome forms of play, and soon he had forgotten about it. But he had occasion to remember it, vividly, one May afternoon nearly twenty-five years later in a Lexington Avenue office building, while he sat at his desk pretending to work and waiting to be fired.

Richard Yates never wrote anything as fine as Gatsby, but then again, he was more consistent than Scott-Fitzgerald, and in several of his novels and stories he came within a whisker of eclipsing America’s finest exponent of modernist fiction. His subject was always the American Dream and its casualties, the continuing inability of his twentieth century characters to truly live together.

Revolutionary Road is recognised as one of the greatest novels of urban America. The Easter Parade, which chronicles the lives of two sisters searching for happiness in different pockets of the ‘dream’ is always touching, subtle and poignant, brave and beautiful and true. In Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Yates gives us exactly that, eleven stories, each of them dealing with the loneliness of an individual. The self-destructive Vincent Sabella, who had spent most of his life in some kind of orphanage. Sergeant Reece, the tyrannical Tennessean soldier who insists on doing his job. And Bob Prentice, the mediocre writer who sees himself as Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott-Fitzgerald, but who in reality is not much good at anything. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness is not Dubliners, but each of the stories is a gem, giving us insight into the emptiness of our own lives and people close to us and those we love. Richard Yates spares us nothing. He is a brave and truthful writer and in order to stay with him as a reader, you have to be prepared for the worst.

5 Responses to “Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates”

  1. Rachel Fox says:

    Yes the two best novels I’ve read this year are ‘Revolutionary Road’ and ‘Winged with Death’!

    jb says: Strange and a little frightening to find myself in that kind of company, Rachel. Revolutionary Road is always going to come close to the top of my all-time favourite novels.

  2. Jim Murdoch says:

    Well that’s another one on the Amazon wish list. Roll on Xmas.

    jb says: There’ll be no regrets over it, Jim.

  3. […] This post was Twitted by johnbakeronline […]

  4. Thomas Baker says:

    Lovely. I’m ready for this one!

  5. Steven Felicelli says:

    I am using the Beckett quote ‘There are many ways in which the thing I am trying in vain to say may be tried in vain to be said’ for my web-site and I can’t recall what I’d copied it out of – I think it was The Molloy Trilogy (and I think it was The Unnamable), but not sure – where is it from?

    jb says: I believe the quotation is taken from Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit.