This novel from 1976 is from the writer of Revolutionary Road, a devastating but also ironic look into New York suburban domestic life in the 1950s. This book is equally devastating and ironic, but from a different angle and subject.
We meet the Grimes sisters in their youth in the 1930s as they are discussing their father’s job as a headline writer for the New York. A subsequent scene of disappointment later we find out through their eyes that he’s actually just a copy desk writer, a low level job. This moment of disappointment colors the rest of the novel and prefigures numerous later similar scenes in which the promise of joy, delight, and greatness is subsumed by crushing mediocrity. This mediocrity is fueled by the direct and indirect limits of the two sisters facing New York life in the 1940s and 1950s (and beyond), but also by the class limitations of being upper lower middle class.
The novel is kind of brutal at times, and while the sisters have a kind of minor resilience, they are also asked to take it repeatedly on the chin. I am reminded of just how powerful Yates’s first novel is and how cutting and incisive he is about the anxieties and cruelties of American capitalism. It’s most not a happy or joyful experience to read this novel, but it doesn’t pull its punches (literally, it seems) and this kind of honesty, pulling thread after thread from the fabric of American myth is satisfying at least.