external image yates2.jpgSarah Blume/2nd Hour

RICHARD YATES

A lost writer in the Age of Anxiety with an eye for reality and a heart full of unrealistic desire.


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Biography



Richard Yates was born in Yonkers, New York on February 3rd, 1926. Born into an unstable household, his parents divorced when he was three. From there, he spent most of his childhood moving from different houses around New England, just like his characters Sarah and Emily Grimes did in The Easter Parade. Most of his upbringing was around Connecticut, where his most rewarded novel Revolutionary Road takes place. After serving in Europe in World War II, he moved back to New York where he worked as a journalist and freelance ghost writer (in which he briefly wrote for Robert Kennedy). His career began as a novelist in 1961 when he published Revolutionary Road, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and was up against Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (which won), Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Such writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy Parker, William Styron, Tennessee Williams, and John Cheever raved about Yates' work. As a muse of post World War II loneliness and desperation, most of his novels surrounded the idea of finding the meaning in the monotony of life and it's travails. Though he never went to college, during 1951-2, when he was 25, he traveled around France and England and constantly wrote and got rejected. He was a chain smoker and drinker and believed all good writers were heavy drinkers. Because of this excessive behavior oblivion to supporting his family with a decent lifestyle, his wife left him in London and took their daughter. Finally in October 1952, after a year of unsuccessful writing in Europe, Yates was published by the Atlantic on his 15th try. From there, though he continued to successfully write, Yates' way of life and unhealthy behavior earned him poor living conditions and occasional drunken public freakouts. This pattern of unstable relationships and personal uneasiness almost mirrors his main character in Easter Parade, Emily Grimes, who spends her whole life exploring herself in unsatisfying relationships and drinks herself to insanity similar to the way Yates experienced his downfall. He died November 7, 1992. Though he did experience some critical acclaim in his lifetime, he never sold more than 12,000 copies on any novels on first edition. When he died, most of his books were out of print. When his popularity increased after his death, many new editions were reissued and he is now considered to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century and leader in the Age of Anxiety era.



Resources on Yates' Life, Work and Relationships




Because Yates has been dead for two decades, there are no interviews I could find with the author (especially because he was substantially less popular in his lifetime than he is today). However, here are other direct sources full of a wealth of information about his perspectives on life and writing:

Excerpt from Richard Yates biography by Blake Bailey
Interview with Yates' daughter
What Richard Yates would think of Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road
Rebirth of a Dark Genius

NPR: An emotional journey down Revolutionary Road
Drinking with Dick Yates
Eleven Kinds of Lonliness
An account from his family, friends and admirers





My Reaction to Revolutionary Road

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Frank and April Wheeler: the couple Yates follows in Revolutionary Road.



One of my most passionate interests is the art of film and its ability to simultaneously capture the complexities and monotonies of life with the simple gestures, noises, and emotions of reality—without an explanation. When I first watched the film Revolutionary Road, I was captivated by its simplistic plot and passionately conflicted characters, Frank and April Wheeler. Though while watching the film, I was drawn in by its rich score and warm landscape shots, I felt a deep connection to both Frank and April’s struggles developed in the plot, which basically in cliché terms, is the fight between the head and the heart. In the Wheeler’s case, the conflict lay in whether or not to follow the emotional instinct versus living with a realistic perspective. When I decided to read the novel, I did not expect to have the same raw, emotional reaction I experienced while watching the realness that the film captured. Instead, I was delightfully surprised by Richard Yates’ ability to portray his characters and their actions with deep intensity—showing, not explaining a thought or reaction with prolonged dialogue or descriptions, which is what the film did so beautifully.
The intriguing, yet simple storyline surrounding Frank and April takes place in 1950s suburbia mostly at their new home on Revolutionary Road. The two had moved there as they were expecting their first child, though their intentions were not to “settle down”. Though the novel does not explicitly point this out, their problems begin not in their move to this conformist lifestyle, but when they get married. Their relationship began on the conversation of lust, dreams and unfulfilled aspirations they hoped for in their futures—and those futures, they saw in each other. Once married and settled down, their neighbors saw them as “different” because of their excitement and unique outlook on life. After a period of misunderstandings and self-doubt, April and Frank decide to make their lifelong desires a reality by moving to Paris—where they can live and experience the thrills of life, avoiding the societal mold they feel they are melting into on Revolutionary Road. At this point, their relationship and priorities begin to dissipate as April becomes pregnant and Frank has double thoughts. Due to society in the fifties, Frank does not want April to perform an abortion even though her pregnancy makes their move much more stressful and unrealistic. Right after Frank reveals to April that he had had an affair, April feels emotionless and states that she is not in love with him. John Givings, the mentally ill son of their peppy neighbor/realtor, Mrs. Givings, finally exposes unspoken truths on the flaws of Frank and April when they announce that they are staying in town. After many loud and passionate arguments, the couple finally meet their fateful end when April dies of an unsuccessful self-performed abortion. Though very tragic, Yates concludes the story with the idea that happiness and full satisfaction can never be achieved because what made Frank and April happy (the thought of living an exciting life in Paris) ultimately lead to the death of a dream, a marriage, and a life.
One of Yates' friend said that he believed Revolutionary Road was a political novel, even though there is no trace of politics in the story. Yet, because April and Frank are unable to build on their relationship and only make war, perhaps Revolutionary Road was Yates' anti-war novel. Though his ending was deeply depressing, I found it extremely thought provoking. Like the film, it ends with snippets of Frank back in New York and the Givings conversing with the Wheelers' new home owners. Yet the last scene, was profoundly touching as it is my favorite scene in both the film and novel.




Frank and April follow the emotional instincts and desires that they feel will make them happy, just like the dreamy perspective of life they shared when they met.



Frank is beginning to see the consequences in going to Paris while April is still fixated on living a different life with fulfilling meaning.

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My Reaction to Easter Parade


After I watched, read, and dissected Revolutionary Road, I sensed Yates' depressed conclusion of life based on the ending of his novel. So when I approached the Easter Parade, I was expecting a similar take on a complex human relationship with the same dark realism he used in Revolutionary Road. And sure enough, I didn't have to read long to understand the basis of the novel when I read the first line: "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce." And there it was--a bright warning sign to be aware of the unhappy nature of the novel. Though my assumption was correct, I never felt the dark, empty sadness you think would come when reading about the unfortunate circumstances of two strong women on the path to dissatisfaction.
The plot follows two sisters Sarah and Emily Grimes over four decades, and how their completely opposite priorities and experiences are interwoven as their rugged relationship is followed and examined. Going chronologically, the story mostly follows Emily who is well spoken, scholarly and academically very talented and finds herself emotionally confused as her meaningful relationships always seem to fade into nothing more than to fulfill sexual desires. As she goes through school and finds multiple writing jobs, the reader is taken back to Sarah's life when Emily takes one of her man friends home to meet her mom (whom she calls Pookie) and Sarah's family.
Though at the beginning of the book Emily is jealous of the glamour and high profile life Sarah obtains when she marries Tony, by the end, she is the bystander to the abusing their relationship which ultimately Emily witnesses until Sarah's death when finally Emily questions her own role as a sister how protective she was and wasn't to Sarah and herself.
From start to end--from young girls to older women--I really admired Yates' ability to write about real feminine emotions and tendencies especially when writing about taking control over a powerful man (Sarah's husband Tony, which in reality, is very similar to Yates). His vague descriptions of internal dialogue and expressions of desire and despair made my read very gripping. Because he follows their lives chronologically, the Easter Parade was a very easy novel to relate to, especially for a young woman like myself. I found myself at times too absorbed with the emotions and inner thoughts of Emily, I could not put the book down.



Easter Parade Review:


https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AXRwD8b8im5rsWUXLDf6dMcEoZMMnktkNhTJz211JwE/edit



Revolutionary Road Critical Analysis:


https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YOawnhrGlzk78pHXZzaj9G73PKEV8U90gXwDXrWcoDQ/edit




Works Cited:



The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-easter-parade-by-richard-yates-1638166.html>.

"Of Books and Reading." Of Books and Reading. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://thehungryreader.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/book-review-the-easter-parade-by-richard-yates/>.

"Book Review: Easter Parade by Richard Yates - Page 2." - Blogcritics Books. Web. 17 May 2012. <http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-easter-parade-by-richard/page-2/>.

"Revolutionary Road - Interview with Richard Yates' Daughter - Oprah.com."Oprah.com. Web. 22 May 2012. <http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Revolutionary-Road-Interview-with-Richard-Yates-Daughter>.

"Leonardo DiCaprio. Kate Winslet. Richard Yates' Dark Novel Is Finally Being Made into a Hollywood Movie." Slate Magazine. Web. 22 May 2012. <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/summer_movies/2007/06/revolutionary_roadthe_movie.html>.

"Richard Yates." Richard Yates. Web. 22 May 2012. <http://www.mobylives.com/Richard_Yates.html>.