Friday, September 28, 2012

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, by Richard Yates

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

 

Richard Yates' first collection of short stories was published in 1962, following the success of his debut novel Revolutionary Road


American novelist Richard Yates (1926-1992) evoked the seething discontent and disappointments of middle class American life with his critically acclaimed debut 1961 novel Revolutionary Road. The follow up to this literary success was a collection of short stories, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. No one of the eleven stories in this collection carries this plaintive title, yet all the stories have a strong atmosphere of alienation and social disconnection.

Yates, a poet of the traumatised modern psyche, published one other collection of stories in his lifetime, Liars in Love, some twenty years later in 1981. This later collection follows a purer Yates style, where the author plunges directly into the anxieties and waking nightmares of his characters. These more mature stories have a greater immediacy and make for compelling reading.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness - A Literary Apprenticeship

For Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, it seems obvious that Yates was crafting his fiction along more conventional short story lines. These early stories were written originally as submissions for literary magazines and the like, over a ten year period. Often the reader can sense the tension between Yates's desire to write successfully for magazine publication and to follow his own natural writer's voice. Ironically enough, even though Yates was writing with a view to commercial success, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness only sold 2000 copies on first release. Some 500 copies were distributed to reviewers and as promotional freebies.

Where Yates jettisons the meticulous short story format, he gets the best results. The stand out example is the last story, Builders. It tells the tale of a young ambitious literary writer, obviously based on Yates himself, who takes on hack work knocking up "real life" stories on commission for a working class cab driver. The cab driver, Bernie Silver, writes the bare bones of his actual experiences as a cab driver, while the writer, Bob Prentice, fleshes them out as fully fledged stories.

Bernie Silver comes up with the charming concept of the stories he commissions as being houses, with him as their "builder". Hence each house / story is attractively designed with windows, doors and the final dainty piece, the chimney top. In the end, the writer character of the story, Bob Prentice, takes on the building metaphor and gives the reader his own "chimney top", in this case his failed marriage to wife Joan.

The Early Work of an American Genius

 

The other stories in the collection, despite their careful, almost self-conscious structure, show the basic themes of Richard Yates's fiction in embryo. His characters struggle to cope with the modern world of business, education, friendship, work and marriage. The individual more often than not finds themselves drowning not waving on life's indifferent seas. American life demands so much success of its people, so much individualism, leaving empty, lonely failures as a result.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness shows a young Richard Yates finding his own literary style. The structure and format of the stories seem somewhat dated and 1950s-ish, yet it is fascinating to detect the emergence of the more authentic Yates voice in many of his brilliant early characterisations.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates, published by Vintage. ISBN: 9780099518570  RRP: $12.95