|Although nobody would describe the unflinching stories of Richard Yates as beach reading, a sunny day and a soothing breeze may provide the best possible antidote to the author's trademark gloom. But even if you open the book in the dead of winter, don't expect to put it down, for Yates will draw you in despite yourself. Like the English novelist Anita Brookner--or, more to the point, like his protÃ©gÃ© Raymond Carver--he is attracted to small lives. And like a diviner, he seeks out and locates precisely those moments when this smallness is sensed by his characters.|
The protagonist of "The Canal," for example, spent most of World War II behind a desk, serving on the European front only during the final months of the conflict. At a postwar cocktail party, however, Miller and his wife encounter a former military officer, and the two begin to exchange stories. It turns out that the officer was decorated for valor in the very same battle that occasioned a major dressing-down for Miller. "I'll put it this way," he was told by his exasperated superior. "You give me more goddamn trouble than all the rest of the men in this squad put together. You're more goddamn trouble than you're worth. You got an answer for that?" Obviously he didn't--and still doesn't.
In an introduction to the 27 stories collected here, Richard Russo celebrates Yates's influence as a teacher at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Any reader of Raymond Carver, to take just one conspicuous example, will recognize the atmosphere of lonely despair, coupled with small ambitions, that he absorbed from his mentor. It's a fascinating study in literary ancestry, and offers yet another reason to pick up this essential and long-overdue volume. --Regina Marler