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[446] Disturbing the Peace – Richard Yates

” The thing is, I can’t be psychoanalyzed, doctor. I’ve tried it and I know. It just doesn’t take with me. Oh, maybe it’s my fault, but whether it’s my fault or not isn’t the point. The point is it simply doesn’t work. Can you understand that? ” (5:145)

Disturbing the Peace is a devastating story. The seed of a man’s destruction is laid from the beginning. The tragedy is not so much about his downward spiral to madness as the uncertain reason for what has gone wrong in his life that has so much promises in store. John Wilder is in his mid-thirties, a successful salesman with a place in the country, an adoring wife and a ten-year-old son. While in Chicago on a business trip, he has a nervous breakdown, becoming wholly irrational after he returns. His sulkiness and moodiness are fueled by compulsive drinking.

But I did go to Yale; that was the college they’d picked for me, and they’d been careful to send me the application forms the minute the war was over so I’d beat the big rush of GI Bill students. I still don’t understand how I got in and I was scared shitless of flunking out. (3:89)

The novel is about how a man is caught in the flow of history and somehow loses his sense of self. War has jolted out of all his religion. His parents carefully lay out the life for him to prepare him for taking over the chocolate business. Somewhere along the line he has lost himself. He may be troubled, but he never thinks himself neurotic or mentally ill. Paranoia and obsessive compulsion slowly take hold of him and eventually put him into a mental asylum. Ironically he believes his experiences there could save him from the chaos of his life.

He didn’t look at her face until he’d gotten through the hard part—he wanted a separation; he was going to California; he had an opportunity to become a producer; there was a girl—and when he did risk a glance at her he found she looked blank: he couldn’t tell if she was being ‘civilized’ about it or if she was stunned. (7:182)

Yates a keen on the irony of life. John Wilder wants to to find himself and creates some order in his life in the chaos. The orderly life that he risks of ruining does not give him satisfaction but pain. (Could this be true for some of us?) The entire novel is constructed on the irony that a man would destroy his life to build a life. He is more than unhappily married: he cannot handle the hope offered him, and thus descending into a depression so deep as to be irrevocable. He leaves his wife but he’s too tied to the past to be sold out for a girl who offers him hope. That the seed of self-destruction are there in the man from the start makes the book very painstaking to read. Yates never disappoints: the dialogue, speech cadences, observations, structure—his writing is a beautiful thing to observe even though the subject matter could be a nuisance.

253 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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5 Responses

  1. sounds like a wonderful book- yates is an author I’ve been meaning to check out for a long time!

  2. I just bought this tonight! I hit the bookstore after dinner and picked it up, but it wasn’t this awesome vintage version that you show here.

  3. Like watching an act of God in slow motion, not being able to stop it. This sounds really powerful and a little gut-wrenching.

  4. Sometimes I do get very frustrated when I see my beloved character make the wrong choice…it can get maddening, sometimes.

  5. […] [446] Disturbing the Peace – Richard Yates […]

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