I doubt there will ever be a time where I don’t enjoy a Richard Yates novel. He is so adept at picking apart the frail thread that ties the ‘American Dream’ together. Beyond that, he has his characters reflect on topics we all think or feel, but never divulge.
A part of me wishes that I had read his novels in chronological order. As of now I have read one from each portion of his life.
Young Hearts Crying will never be my favourite Yates novel, it is longer than necessary. However, its observation on human character is possibly the best of any of his novels I’ve read before.
‘Michael Davenport, a minor poet, is an intensely ambitious young man – just old enough to have served in the US Air Force at the end of World War Two. Every failure he suffers in his efforts to become established as a professional writer weighs against the uneasy knowledge that his wife, Lucy, has an untapped private fortune amounting to millions of dollars. Lucy, for her part, always elegant but often shy, is never quite certain what is expected of her. And as a couple, the Davenports are repeatedly dismayed at meeting other people whose lives appear brighter and better than their own. In this magnificent novel, at once bitterly sad and achingly funny, Richard Yates again shows himself to be the supreme, tenderly ironic chronicler of the ‘American Dream’ and its casualties.’ GoodReads.
Yates has a magical power to unravel the ‘American Dream’, where success is available to all, and the pursuit of one’s dreams is attainable. The post-war generation – much like the lost generation post WW1 – are displaced. They age with pre-war values in a world with fewer moral restrictions than they’ve known. Michael Davenport is determined to make a success of himself as a writer and support his family, but is emasculated by his wife’s fortune. He drinks excessively as his peers do, which leaves him at his most vulnerable. In his worst states, he is violent and vitriolic. Michael Davenport is the definition of insecure.
Lucy Davenport is left to float along, embarrassed by her husband and unsure of her place in the world. She plays the housewife well, but this isn’t who she wants to be. Once she and Michael are divorced she attempts to fill her time with love affairs, art and writing classes, hoping to find some undiscovered talent. She is competent, though nothing extraordinary. Lucy exemplifies the average person, hoping to be better than they feel they are, to be worth more.
Aside from Yates’ astute observation of the human character, my favourite development of the novel was the dissolve of the air of brilliance their friends held to Lucy and Michael. They thought their friends the most exciting people, undeserving of them. But, they weren’t really friends, more admirers desperate to be part of an ‘artistic’ crowd. They all changed, grew apart from one another, but unable to form new bonds they stayed in touch.
My only criticism of the novel is that I did not have enough narrative from Lucy, and we are denied their daughter Laura’s narrative. Had the novel ended with a part from Laura rather than Michael I would have enjoyed this novel that bit more.