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A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates
by Blake Bailey
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312423756, Paperback)Richard Yates worked his way down from the top. His brilliantly pitiless 1961 classic about exploded '50s suburban dreams, Revolutionary Road, made him a peer of Cheever and Updike (though Natalie Wood broke his heart by scuttling the movie version). William Styron got him a gig writing civil rights speeches for Bobby Kennedy: "He used RFK s a ventriloquist's dummy," says Kurt Vonnegut, who, like Yates's future employer, David (NYPD Blue) Milch, met him at the celebrated Iowa writing program. Yates's dark gift casts a colossal shadow enriching our culture: he was a profound influence on Richard Ford, Mary Robison, Ann Beattie, and the Minimalist literary movement. He also inspired the "Alton Benes" Seinfeld episode (his daughter, who apparently shares her dad's mordant wit, helped inspire the character Elaine). Blake Bailey soberly records Yates's rather stylishly bleak spiral from fame into drunkenness and self-imposed obscurity, despite the loyalty of his famous friends. He drunkenly set fire to his beard, succumbed to writer's block and delusions that he'd killed JFK, heedlessly and needlessly alienated even people he admired. But one reason he died poor, with the manuscript of his RFK novel, Uncertain Times in his freezer, was precisely his gift: an honesty that ranks with the greatest of tragedians. --Tim Appelo
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:17 -0400)
"Yates's life was a tragicomic disaster. The favorite child of an unstable, impecunious mother, Yates described his youth as a "hysterical odyssey" through Depression-era America and beyond, from Westchester to Paris to Greenwich Village and back again, hounded by creditors every step of the way. Such an ordeal was the goad that made Yates determined to reveal the truth, no matter how bleak, that people like his mother tend to bury beneath layers of every delusion. "The most important thing," he liked to say, "is not to tell or live a lie."" "What emerges from these pages is a man of fascinating contradictions. A "gentlemen of the old school" who was rarely seen in public without a Brooks Brothers suit and foulard tie, Yates could be a man of consummate integrity and charm. But his better self was constantly sabotaged by alcohol and mental illness, and even at the best of times - a prestigious stint in Hollywood, say, or as Robert Kennedy's speechwriter - some fresh calamity was always in the offing." "A Tragic Honesty is an evocation of a man who in many ways embodied the struggles of the Great American Writer in the latter half of the twentieth century. The story of Richard Yates here stands as a singular reminder of what the writer must sacrifice for his craft, the devil's bargain of artistry for happiness, praise for sanity."--BOOK JACKET.
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