on 3 September 2003
Richard Yates was always interested in failures and outsiders, and in Cold Spring Harbor, originally released in 1986 and the last novel he would write, this is no different. The theme of the book is typical Yates - lonely lost characters struggling through life anyway they can, marriages that are falling apart, people who get drunk to numb whatever pain they’re feeling.
The story centres around two families, the Shepards and the Drakes, who meet up by chance when the Shepards car breaks down. What begins as a joyous union soon beings to turn sour, with sadness meeting each character perpetually. There is one mans feelings of being trapped by marriage and his child, a mentally unstable woman and her unrequited love, a teenage boys feelings of inadequacy – each of them dreams of escape and a better life, only to wake to reality every time.
The characters, as in all of Yates stories, are brought to life by the faultless dialogue, each scene brought to life by Yates sparse yet descriptive sentences. There are no excess words, no overindulgence, it’s kept sharp and clear and with the last few pages beautifully understated and totally breathtaking. Though it may not be as critically acclaimed a novel as his debut Revolutionary Road, this book should still not be ignored.
There is no happy ending to this story but that’s okay – life isn’t all about happy endings and anyway, a happy ending wouldn’t have fit here. Richard Yates was a man who suffered through two divorces (with his wives winning custody of the children on both occasions), TB, alcoholism and depression, finally ending with his premature death caused by smoking induced emphysema. For him, sadly, there was no happy ending either.
on 25 August 2008
Yates is new to me and I had no idea what to expect ... what he delivers is so far from the usual Disney / Hollywood fair America endlessly churns out.
It is a deceptively simple story of two families struggling to get along, to do 'the right thing,' to be accepted and loved. But the veneer of polite society is shot through by deeper needs and fears.
As the narration switches between characters all appear to have legitimacy and reason, as well as some flaw which grows in their minds like a tumour, dominating their lives. The characters do not grow to overcome their limitations; they are not supported to confront the issues, which instead are covered up, ran away from or disowned.
In short, a nightmare! No matter how you wish things will turn out fine in the end, you know it ain't going to happen!
Nonetheless, the book is an extremely good read, if not exactly enjoyable! It is convincing in ways few horror stories are.
on 7 July 2016
It's hard to fault the quality of Yates's prose. It's so fluent and articulate, and deceptively poetic. Plus, his handling of dialogue and third person point of view is exquisite - you hardly notice the expert technique because it's all so sumptuously easy to read. Disgracefully overlooked as a writer, in my opinion. Should be up there as one of the 20th Century greats. Maybe, at last, his work is getting the recognition it deserves.
For some, the subject matter may feel a bit gloomy and the storylines rather pessimistic. It's true the characters have by and large taken a bit of a bruising one way or the other, their horizons pretty limited. The women, particularly, do seem to suffer. But it's right in this mire of hardship and delusion that Yates manages to capture the poignancy and reality of the human struggle. He conjures beautiful, timeless moments that sparkle with truth. But it's no trick - more like a surgeon at the operating table performing something wonderfully life-giving, yet difficult to watch.
on 24 February 2016
Whilst Cold Spring Harbor is not much longer than a novella, at only about 175 pages, it is really a superb novel with richly developed characters and themes. Yates has a way of making his characters real by fleshing out their flaws, weaknesses and disappointments through clear prose and crisp dialogue. Cold Spring Harbor is a story about the lives of ordinary people, and there is a lot of sadness in the story, but Yates writes in such a way that makes it dramatic and beautiful and enjoyable to read.
on 21 February 2009
Cold Spring Harbor is a slip of a novel, and left me wanting more. It's a novel moody adolescents in their 'outsider' phase would relate to, being the tale of a young man, Evan Shepard, who has himself had troubled teenage years in which he indulged in petty crime and bullying. Evan is blessed with beautiful looks, however, so he's always been popular with the ladies. To the chagrin of his respectable retired army officer father Charles, Evan is loathe to settle down to any profession with much of a future. However, Charles and his delicate wife Grace hope that things will change when Evan meets and falls in love with a pleasant girl from New York, Rachel.
Yates includes some of his characteristic personalities. There's the needy, embarrassing, loosely garrulous mother figure, Gloria Drake, whose verbal diarrhoea and cringeable desire for elevated social status sets people's teeth on edge. There's the silent son packed off to private school - Rachel's brother Phil. And of course, a significant proportion of the women are alcoholics, drinking to keep their despair and loneliness at bay.
Yates's prose is as elegant and minimalist as ever. He never uses more words than are necessary, nor does he ever include flowery or obscure terms. He simply tells the story - in easily comprehensible but perfectly pitched language.
Reading this a couple of months after Sadie Jones's The Outcast won a Costa for best first novel, I'm struck by the differences between the two novels. They both ostensibly cover similar ground - confused, dangerously attractive young men who don't live up to their potential and who don't curb their sexual urges. Yet despite Jones's novel painting a vivid picture of a torn, magnetic adolescent, her prose is studded with sloppy and ordinary language compared with Yates's. It is the language of trashy pulp fiction, Dan Brown and Kate Mosse, bestsellers which use words a five year-old would use to convey action.
In contrast, although Yates uses ordinary words, he uses them in a way you feel couldn't be bettered. His novels may lack action, but it is his ability to perceive the drama in the mundane that is impressive. His books are the equivalent of the quality kitchen sink dramas of the '60s and '70s. It is a pity that Yates didn't receive all the accolades he deserved in life.
The only negative comment I have to make about Cold Spring Harbor is that I could have done with another 100 or so pages. I hadn't had enough of Evan by the closing pages. Selfish, irascible and loutish as he was, he illustrated perfectly the point that you don't have to like a character to love a novel.
on 18 June 2010
Having read and loved Revolutionary Road I decided to read more of Yates' work (as revolutionary road was my first) and once again I am in love with Yates' brilliant writing. I only finished the book today and I'm still thinking over the themes, ideas and points being made in the story so I won't say much apart from interesting and entertaining and (so far) Yates' novels are always worth reading.
on 14 August 2008
Richard Yates is a writer, whose writing always (at least in the four books of his I have read so far) has a special kind of magic. He doesn't need any fancy plot, he doesn't need exotic places and he doesn't need any kind of experimental writing to grip his readers. He is a magician in pacing his developments, and "Cold Spring Harbor" is another perfect example of his wonderful art. A story, which, had it been told by any lesser writer, would have most likely made us yawn all the way. "Cold Spring Harbor" is a book all around love and the mistakes of youth. Richard Yates develops the story of Evan Shepard, his parents, Mary, Rachel, Phil and Gloria in a seemingly very simple way, swiftly changing between telling us the story, or developing scenes just by dialogue, increasing the density of his prose all the way, and without even noticing how completely we are captivated by the story, we're all of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the book, not wanting to put it away, even if it's way past midnight and you have to get up early in the morning. "Cold Spring Harbor" (which is set in the years of 2nd World War before and after Pearl Harbor, but in it's thoughts, in saying what it is saying, absolutely timeless) is a moving story (with an, although maybe not really unforeseeable, yet stunning ending), it touches, it's sad, and with the breathtaking elegance of Richard Yates' writing, a wonderful reading experience.
on 27 June 2011
Cold Spring Harbor is a beautifully written book that captures all the subtlety of human emotion and relationships. At a time when so many dramas and movies portray contain one-dimensional cardboard cut-out characters, it's refreshing to read a Yates book.
Cold Spring Harbor is only a short book, but it resonates and leaves the reader with the overwhelming feeling that its characters reflect life - messy, unpredictable, contradictory, unresolved.
on 31 December 2014
The author seems to delight in this examination of his wretched characters's failures and human weaknesses.
A bleak story that in the end I hurried through eager to rid myself of the sour taste. The writing was accomplished as usual but you have to ask yourself why had he bothered to write it in the first place?
on 20 June 2012
A beautiful, tragic book. Again, Yates creates a cast of vulnerable sad characters, showing the enormous gap between their hopes and good intentions and the reality of their worlds. But he never presents their flaws for you to laugh at and instead invites you to empathise with every single character, however cruel they are. He breaks the writing-school golden rule of sticking with one narrative point of view and in doing so creates a complete world in a very slim novel. If you enjoyed it I would obviously highly recommend Revolutionary Road, but also Yates' collected short stories. He's one of the finest short stories writers ever - up there with Munro, Mansfield, Carver and Cheever.