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[461] Young Hearts Crying – Richard Yates

” Matter of fact, the distinction between strong people and weak people always falls apart under scrutiny anyway, and everybody knows it, and that’s why it’s always been too sentimental an idea for good writer to trust. ” (Part II, Ch.4, 197)

On the heels of World War II, after being dismissed from the air force, Michael davenport enrolls in Harvard and aspires to write poetry. Dignity and reserve are qualities he has always prized more highly than any others. At first he and his new wife, whose family has money written all over them, enjoy their life together in the New York suburb. His wife’s fortune doesn’t bother him since he believes he could make something of himself on his own; but his is mindful of not living off her fortune for fear of bleeding away his ambition.

Being born with either [talent or money] can bring you more than most people allow themselves to dream of, but they both require an unfailing responsibility. If you ignore them, or neglect them, all the good of them slides away into idleness and waste. And the terrible thing is how easily idleness and waste can become a way of life. (Part II, Ch.1, 135)

This aptly sums up the life of Lucy and Michael Davenport. The novel, which spans over two decades between 1950 and 1970s, is told through the eyes of Michael and his wife, who later divorces him because of a lack of gravity in him. No doubt talented in writing, Michael is self-conscious of his stagnant career as a writer and leery of the commercial success of others.

He disdains commercial art but covets its monetary gain. He persists in this willful self-righteousness, shunning all the opportunities implicit in the worlds of his friends. He drinks too much and is deeply dependent on the women who keep growing weary of his self-indulgence. He is threatened by his fear of impotence. In short, he is weak, and he makes a cult of his weakness. As his marriage falls apart, he wallows in his inseparability of fear and madness. He gravitates to a succession of women but fear he cannot satisfy them.

The central problem we’ve discussed here, since the end of your marriage, is how best to take full advantage of your wealth and of the personal freedom it provides. (Part II, Ch.1, 138)

Lucy, after the divorce, dabbles in various forms of art practices, but she cannot quite make it. She isn’t weak, but is impelled to find her place in life, and she has the strength to make it on her own. She composes an autobiographical story about a young divorced woman who falls in love with a summer theater director who talks her into taking the most difficult role in an important play. Her endeavors in creativity bear the hope to justify her talent.

Ah. And what are you people born with? An endless capacity for lust and betrayal, I imagine, and a crafty little talent for inflicting senseless pain. Right? (Part II, Ch.3, 180)

In a pervasive tone of sadness, with prose so unadorned and unsentimental, Yates creates a vision, a relentless and unflinching scrutiny of a wasted life. Young Hearts Crying is about the desires and disasters of a tragic, hopeful couple, whose once bright future gives way to life of adultery and isolation. They are adrift in their miseries. In stead of a hope for their conversion from weakness to strength, Yates seems to ridicule the Davensports, who are perpetually wallowed in their circular ruts. The book feels tiresome, but it’s really their lives are just so tiresome to read, making me want to rage at them.

422 pp. Vintage Contemporaries Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

5 Responses

  1. […] [461] Young Hearts Crying – Richard Yates […]

  2. Richard Yates is a favorite, but after reading four of his novels ( 3 in quick succession) I was starting to feel as depressed and burned out as his characters. I’m just about ready to read more and will turn to Young Hearts Crying next… sounds like I’ll need to brace myself.

    • This is a difficult book for me. Young Hearts Crying is by far the most depressing books I have read of his. Sometimes death can be a redemption of a hard life but this one is about the desires and disasters of a tragic, hopeful couple, whose once bright future gives way to life of adultery and isolation.

  3. I have a hard time getting into a book when the characters are so unsympathetic to me.

    • My feeling toward the couple depicted in this novel is similar those youngsters begging for money on the streets. Why have they wasted their life like this?

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