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Excellent writing but an ambiguous message
on 16 April 2012
This is certainly a good novel, although it's not quite up to the standards of Revolutionary Road (a comparison that's unavoidable and one that every Richard Yates fan will make, unconsciously or not). The craft of the prose is practically perfect. Every sentence is clear and concise, every word is well chosen and propels the book steadily forwards... but, ultimately, I came away from the closing pages wondering where exactly this polished prose had taken me.
Caution: some of the next comments might be deemed spoilers.
At the end of Part One, it feels like Yates made a fairly big decision re: his material. He was going to write about life after divorce, rather than life sustained in an unhappy marriage. Part Two is devoted to Lucy's post-divorce romps; Part Three is devoted to Michael's post-divorce romps. And this is all fine... but it soon begins to feel like these are a series of vignettes about different sexual partners, instead of meaningful episodes in a story that's actually heading somewhere. It seems like this novel could have been much more gutsy if it had focused on Michael and Lucy trying to save their marriage... and the subsequent fallout from that. Instead, it becomes a bit too obsessed with tales of sexual freedom and the overriding complaint that life is way too hard when you're an aspiring artist.
What I mostly took away from this book - and I wonder if Yates intended for this message to seep through - was how the true casualties in any broken marriage will always be the children. Michael and Lucy, on the face of it, aren't very good parents. Their daughter grows up into a depressed, drug-addled hippy and neither of them seems to realise it's their own fault. Perhaps this is a novel about the knock-on effects of selfishness, then... but this seems more like a side effect and not really the central theme that Yates was going for.