Most people believe implicitly that modernity began with their own glorious arrival. My generation and the bunch before us are particularly guilty of such smugness. One just has to say “the sixties” to divide the history of the Western World in two—after, the world that is still around us, for better or worse; before, black and white Life advertisements full of short-haired men and bobbed women, narrow waists and outlooks, lumbering cars, radiograms … .
One of the joys of Yates’s savage dissection of American 1950s suburbia in Revolutionary Road is how contemporary the angst and despair that pervades the novel is. Frank and April Wheeler might drive Pontiacs, drink highballs and smoke endless cigarettes, but their misery is our misery, their cheap and fleeting victories ours too.
I bought Yates’s Collected Stories on an impulse back in May and ever since then I’ve been hooked. He’s one of the funniest (in a savage and appalling way) of writers, and a beautiful stylist. The opening of Revolutionary Road, a cringe-making description of an amateur dramatic performance gone horribly wrong is one of the funniest things I've read for ages. Yates's prose flows so easily and his dialogue is so natural that you know he must have laboured endlessly on it. It is impossible to ignore the similarities with another doomed and alcoholic writer, Raymond Carver, so if, like me, you are running out of Carvers to read and wonder where else you can go for a dose of gloom and dark comedy, well, here’s your man.
I’ll leave you with the opinion of another master of American noir:
Here is more than fine writing; here is what, added to fine writing, makes a book come immediately intensely and brilliantly alive. If more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don’t know what it is. Tennessee Williams