#100: Richard Yates

As I sit down to write to you today I’m thinking about Richard Yates. When I first read Revolutionary Road it blew me away; I’d never encountered characters I’d so badly wanted to shake some sense into, yet at the same time who felt so tragically, understandably human.

What Yates is really good at, maybe better than anyone else, is showing characters acting disingenuously, behaving the way they think they’re supposed to behave, or doing the exact opposite of how they really feel. He writes about tyranny of images, which in his case are the advertising images of the fifties and sixties. Metro North suburbia isn’t all its cracked up to be (Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner reportedly gave the novel to January Jones as homework for her Betty Draper role) but a character can also walk through the streets of a war-torn French town and feel joy, vigor; the moments one expects to be most somber can also be rife with truth and closeness to life.

I was struggling with a bit of a personal crisis this week, and I’m through the worst (best?) of it now thanks in part to some advice I received from a good friend. He said: 1) Don’t do anything too cinematic, and 2) Figure out what in this moment you know is true.

I’ve been carrying these two things around like a pocket knife and a piece of flint; they might be all I need. They remind me that striving is no substitute for listening, that bucket lists, moral or not, should be written in disappearing ink. They remind me that I. Do. Not. Know. And they remind me, also, of Richard Yates.