7. A Good School
This would be my least favorite, but since I believe Yates to be one of the best novelists of the 20th century, saying that is not any kind of denigration. Good School is still great in parts. The forward and afterword by the protagonist, Grove, are especially classic, both employing Yates’ distinctively clear but beautiful style to reveal something personal about the author, in this case, regarding his dad. Because we already know it’s not Grove writing about Grove, but Grove writing about Yates. The novel is even dedicated to his father and, since we don’t hear much about Yates’ dad in other novels, it’s a fascinating look into a mostly unknown person.
6. Disturbing the Peace
I like the way this one starts, with the married couple’s phone conversation where the husband admits to – and sounding like a crazy person as he does – being with other women and not wanting to come home before you even have a chance to digest what’s going on. And I like some of the scenes later in the book when Wilder, the main character and cheating alcoholic composite of Yates, meets a younger woman and they start to make a play of his writing. But the novel loses some steam as Yates gets surrealistic about the process of going crazy, which he kind of literally was doing at the time. It picks up at very end, though, and it’s worth hanging around as it is a powerful finish, maybe even his best.
5. A Special Providence
Coming out seven years after Revolutionary Road, ASP had a lot of live up to because, admittedly, Yates felt like he could no better than his first novel. To deal with that the man went big and wrote a novel; about his own mother and the biggest war of the century and so, in the general sense of accomplishes those goals, the novel was a success. Trying to put it into distinct halves was interesting, too, but it’s worth noting Yates never used that device again. I would contend ASP is engaging, as all of Yates’ are, and much better than the reception it received at the time, but more than anything, it’s a harbinger of greater things to come.
4. Cold Spring Harbor
At the time of his death, Yates was working on a novel about his time as a speechwriter for Robert Kennedy. But before he passed, the last novel he had published was CSH, a book with multiple shifts in point of view. Shifts which, I’m sure would’ve crumbled in a lesser practitioner’s hands, though, with Yates, they really are seamless. As well, the mother character in this novel rivals Pookie from Easter Parade. And if you’ve ever read Easter Parade, you understand that’s saying quite a bit.
3. Young Hearts Crying
Yates described this novel as being his weakest, a kind of soap opera. And while it does have a theatrical kind of cattiness to it, it’s still brilliant. All the Yatesian characters are present, the ones always trying to do their best as writers or poets or painters, everyone having the contrived artifices Yates was at once keen at tearing down, but also holding up, if it was important they later fall down. It has all kinds of classic Yates lines, too, men and woman “falling on each other,” people saying, “oh, you’re nice, you’re so nice.” As well, Young Hearts uses composites of people Yates met in his lifetime. In some ways, reading this novel is like reading A Tragic Honesty (which is amazing on its own) but in fictionalized form.
2. Revolutionary Road
What did Yates say, something like, “it’s an awful thing to write your best novel first.” And though I wouldn’t say this is his best, it’s easy to make that case. From the very beginning with the descriptions of the Laurel Players to the dramatic ending, you really don’t taken out of the world Yates meticulously crafted for six some years. And you never get a sense of being given more or less than you need. The novel doesn’t feel too showy and yet at the same time it feels magical. It calls out artists while at the same time is one of the greatest pieces of art on the 20th Century. I can’t think of a better compliment.
1. Easter Parade
In the end, no other work from Yates can stack up to Easter Parade in terms of emotional punch. It was in A Tragic Honesty one of Yates’ friends said, after reading Easter Parade, how the book was written in such a “sad way.” And it really is, it’s a very sad and poetic book, and, in my mind, the most skilled work from the man. It’s an amazing novel, easily one of the best ever written. If you haven’t already, you should read it today.