Review: Young Hearts Crying
Author: Richard Yates Title: Young Hearts Crying Published: 1984 Pages: 432
This is my third time reading Richard Yates (previously read The Easter Parade & Cold Spring Harbor). Young Hearts Crying follows Michael Davenport and Lucy Blaine from the 1950s to the 1970s. It follows their struggles in marriage, the dissolution of their married life (that’s not a spoiler, divorce goes hand-in-hand in a Yates’ novel) and their subsequent life as unmarried people. Throughout the novel, Lucy flings to one pursuit to another; be it painting, writing, acting — she seems to fill her feeling of emptiness with as many things as possible. Michael, on the other hand, suffers from an anxiety of his place in the world and his debilitating aim for perfection in his work. His self-imposed ideals of what a writer should be renders him almost comatose, unable to actually do anything. Both of them suffer from their idealism, they want to be involved in the world of artists and creatives. Yet they never fit in, always in the background waiting for their chance.
What I love most about Yates’ work is his uncanny ability to, with just the simplest of lines, penetrate right to the heart of a person. His prose is simple, unadorned; it’s that very classical American — almost masculine — prose that is deceptively simple but holds a lot of power and truth. There’s a beautiful moment, in the beginning, when Michael first meets Lucy:
She wasn’t the prettiest girl he had ever met, but she was the first pretty girl who had ever shown so much interest in him, and he knew he could get a lot of mileage out of a mixture like that.
Unfortunately, my main criticism (and this might be due to over-familiarity than anything else) is that the novels I’ve read all follow a simple beat. Yates’ has a couple of themes that run throughout such as: the anxiety of married life, the dichotomy between suburbia and Bohemia. Reading Young Hearts Crying, I found myself thinking it’s the same thing and I got tired of it. If it wasn’t for his prose I would probably have stopped reading. Plus, the length doesn’t help — Yates’ style, for me, really only works in shorter works. Then again, the length of Young Hearts Crying does highlight the cyclical nature of these characters’ lives. They often make the same mistakes, seemingly doomed to repeat the same things. There are also about three moments in the novel, where all the failure and utter disappointment in the characters’ relationship boil up to the surface. These scenes crystallises everything that was wrong about the relationship. For instance, the breakup of Michael and Lucy’s marriage is one of them:
She turned on him and looked him up and down. “Oh, this is strange,” she said. “This is really interesting. I mean it’s been surprising enough to find I’ve always hated all your precious, elitist little Kenyon Review ideas — and my God, if I never hear you say ‘poem’ or ‘play’ again it’ll be too soon — but what I know now is that it’s your voice itself I hate. Do you understand me? I simply can’t bear the sound of your voice anymore. Or the sight of your face.”
And in that moment, you realise that their relationship was doomed to fail; their growing resentment for each other, so seemingly innocuous in the beginning, explodes shattering their fragile illusions.
Also, there’s a wonderful moment when Lucy (in a relationship with a novelist) when reality rears it’s ugly head, crashing her fantasy down in front of her. She wants a life where he writes his successful novels, while she paints and it’s a idyllic portrait of married life. Yet, after reading a draft of his second novel she realises that:
There could never be fifteen books in this uncertain, mistake-making, self-pitying man. There might at best be two or three more, each worse than the last; then he would talk and drink his way through the rest of his life, having girls and telling them about his other girls, getting teaching jobs (…) knowing that except in a single novel he’d had nothing to say.
And she would despise herself for that pattern of thought. If she had so little belief in Carl Traynor, what was she doing here?
It’s moments like these that propel you to finish the novel, so I wouldn’t say it was a terrible book…hell, it’s actually good. It’s just over long which causes the story to lose a lot of its power. In the end, The Easter Parade is still my favourite, and perhaps that’s down to freshness but I looking back at it, it’s a marvellous novel. I’m going to give Yates a rest for a while and then check out another of his.