Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

Review: Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

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.

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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.

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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.

Have you read any Richard Yates Novels?

10 thoughts on “Review: Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

  1. I’ve never read any Richard Yates before, your great review has convinced me I should. Which novel would you recommend for a Richard Yates first Timer? Thanks

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    1. Yay! I would recommend starting with Easter Parade, purely because it is my favourite. I read Revolutionary Road first, but I didn’t enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed how it made me think afterwards. A Good School could be a good place to start as well, it’s a lot shorter than his other novels. However, it feels a lot different as it is set amongst a boarding school and not in the lives of ‘failing’ adults.

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  2. Ugh, even without context that quote about shame makes my skin crawl. I’m so susceptible to embarrassment-by-proxy!

    I need to read some more Richard Yates. I read — and was surprised to love — Revolutionary Road a few years ago, and I’ve always intended to read more by Yates. I guess I haven’t done it because I keep thinking, like, he’s not my Type and it’s unlikely I really love him. (Silly way of thinking.)

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    1. And mine! It’s so spot on, so horribly accurate.

      I have those moments too (mainly with fantasy and sci-fi) and then I’m always surprised when I read a book in this genre and love it. Try Easter Parade next, it’s his best.

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  3. It’s been a few years since I read Richard Yates, but I loved Revolutionary Road. As you say, he’s so good at uncovering the cracks in the American Dream. I’m quite tempted to reread Easter Parade as I have very little recollection of it due to other distractions at the time, and it sounds as if it’s your favourite Yates.

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    1. It definitely is, I think it would be hard to top it. Definitely worth a re-read. I think it is going to be one of those books I try and re-read every Christmas/New Year.

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