Liars in Love
This is the second collection of short stories by Richard Yates and compared to the first collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, the quality is as good an probably better, but there’s a clear distinction in terms of form, execution, and style here. For one, these stories are less the kinds of slices of life and vignettes expanded to stories that that first collection was and more so more rounded out stories, almost no punchiness at all, and a clearer focus and maturity in the writing.
The other big difference is that the stories are longer in general. Instead of eleven stories comprising 180 pages of text, we have seven stories comprising more than 200 pages of text and the difference that that allows for is clear in the reading.
There’s more personal writing here as well. The opening story, which begins with the lines quotes in the title of this post, traces a story that seems likely pulled from Yates’s own life. His mother was a disgruntled and maybe not very good sculptor who had connections to powerful people. That kind of connection allows for and causes a lot of bad commissioned art to be sure. Further stories take on some of the changing notions about life and sexuality and gender differences in the 20th century. Like a lot of writers who came before him–Mary McCarthy and John Cheever–and those who are contemporary with him–John Updike and Philip Roth–and those who would come after–TC Boyle and Richard Russo and Richard Ford–Yates is concerned with the ways in which the white, educated middle class functions, and what effects their forebears have had on them and the institutions that came about, and what disgruntled touches they will leave on the world. There’s a line somewhere in one of the stories “It’s a bad time to be an American in Europe”.
The best story in the bunch is the title story where an American couple with a young daughter is living in London while the husband works on research through a Fullbright scholarship. They begin to understand they’ve lost any passion for each other and so the wife moves back to the US for the time being, and the husband picks up with a Piccadilly sex worker. And in her raw humanity and class difference we get a story that unfolds almost like a horror story while the husband worries more and more that this affair will turn into a relationship. This kind of male-centered sense of his feelings completely separate from the feelings of the young woman is what allows the story to work in this particular way. Over all the collection is very strong and feels like the closing off of a kind era in American writing.
The Uncollected Stories of Richard Yates –
“‘Wait a minute–wasn’t that the same division you were in, Lew?’ Betty Miller turned on her husband, almost spilling her drink, her eyes wide open and ready for a priceless coincidence. ”
These are mostly unpublished stories found in the personal papers and effects of Yates in a permanent collection. Two were published and they are the good stories in the collection and the rest feel like they needed an editor, which they don’t get here, and are a perfect way to round out a collected stories edition, which they do.
I was kind of pleasantly and nostalgically surprised to find out from the acknowledgments page that a professor I had in college was the one to find them and recommend them for publication. So that was weird.