Sunday, February 17, 2008

Will Great Writers Always Make It?

One could be as cynical as the Partner of the Bitch and point out that while many of us have been raving for a couple of years now about formerly neglected novelist Richard Yates - led by Methuen's excellent programme of reissues - it takes forthcoming films of his books (Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade) to prompt an article about him in The Observer. (I can't find a link, I'm afraid.) But I don't care - I'm just rejoicing at the rehabilitation of this wonderful writer.

Nick Fraser, author of the Observer article, makes some acute points about the reason for Yates's lack of recognition in his own lifetime. His very independence of vision exiled him: his books 'were dangerously at odds with the prevailing [American] wisdom' and his 'view of life's prospects were too brutal to appeal to the genteel literary culture of his time.' For instance:
Criticising the shallowness of American corporate life was one thing [but] to imply that, far from pursuing the approved dream, executives in corporations didn't really do much work, was something not even Jack Lemmon could have conveyed to the American public in Yates's heyday.
And he quotes Ellen Barkin, producer the forthcoming film of The Easter Parade: 'Brits immediately get Yates - maybe because they have never bought into anything as dumb as the American dream.'

Fraser recounts some of the literary travails which plummeted Yates into alcoholism and depression:
Yates tried to sell story after story to [The New Yorker]... In the end fiction editor Roger Angell came clean about Yates's prospects. 'It seems clearer and clearer that his kind of fiction is not what we're looking for,' he wrote snootily to Yates's agent in 1981. 'I wonder if it wouldn't save a lot of time and disappointment in the end if you and he could come to the same conclusion.'
Honestly, it's hard to know whether Yates's story is vindication or otherwise of those who insist that great writers will always make it in the end.
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