I’ve never done this before; jumped straight from a book by the same author into another. It was a strange experience. It was like walking into a house that is exactly the same on the outside as its neighbour, but on the inside, everything is the other way round; discordantly familiar. I felt like I had never left the world of Disturbing the Peace, and that John and Janice Wilder could quite easily be somewhere in the background of the characters’ lives in Young Hearts Crying. What was especially interesting about reading these two back to back is that they were written ten years apart; and a lot of the bitterness and anger I felt emanating from the pages of Disturbing the Peace had mellowed into a resigned, almost peaceful, acceptance of life and all its disappointments by the end of Young Hearts Crying. Perhaps Yates had been through a particularly difficult time whilst writing Disturbing the Peace; I’d love to get hold of his biography to find out.
Young Hearts Crying starts quite differently to Disturbing the Peace; it opens into the world of Michael Davenport, a young, aspiring playwright/poet, fresh out of college and full of dreams of creative success. He is in love with a young would-be actress, Lucy, who also happens to be a multi millionairess, and they marry and move to New York where they both have dreams of becoming successful artists and getting into the ‘right’ set. Michael refuses to allow Lucy to use any of her money; he wants to support them, and so he gets a meaningless, dull job at a magazine to make ends meet while working on his ‘real’ work – his writing. Things look up for them when Michael gets introduced to some artists, with whom he becomes friends, and subsequently he and Lucy are invited into their circle. Lucy and Michael revel in these connections, and when their friends move out to upstate New York, Lucy and Michael soon follow to live an idealised bohemian life in the country.
Surrounded with the success and talent of his friends, Michael increasingly begins to feel inferior in his artistic abilities, and his modest success with his first volume of published poems isn’t enough to sustain his thirst for fame and recognition. He spends all day holed up in the house writing, producing nothing of note, which only serves to exacerbate his frustration at himself, and hidden jealousy of his so called friends’ success. Before long, both he and Lucy are heavily reliant on alcohol to get them through the day as they become increasingly dissatsified with themselves and each other, and their marriage starts to unravel.
After they divorce, the book splits into two sections, with the first detailing Lucy’s experiences of life after Michael, and the second detailing Michael’s experiences of life after Lucy. Lucy stays in the house in the country with Laura, their daughter, now almost a teenager, and, a still good looking thirtysomething, finds herself attracting plenty of male attention, but she still can’t be satisfied in her need to be good at something in her own right. Michael moves back to the city, but lonely and frustrated, he finds his mind deteriorating, and he begins to fear that he will never find the success he has been striving for all of his adult life.
Young Hearts Crying is a novel about desire; about dreams, about yearning for a ‘something’ that can’t be named, and might not even exist, but is pursued relentlessly regardless, because the thought that there isn’t anything more is unbearable to contemplate. Michael and Lucy want a life that has no basis in reality; Michael’s talent has never been sufficient to give him the success he imagines he is entitled to, and his inability to accept that is what causes him to live in a state of disappointment, insecurity, self loathing and envy. Lucy has always had everything she wanted, apart from a passion, a talent, a reason for her existence. Her desperate attempts to find fulfilment in men, in writing classes, in parties, in her daughter, all fail, because she doesn’t know what it is that will fill the hole inside of her. They both drift through life, waiting for the moment for it all to come right, but when you don’t know what the ‘right’ is that you’re waiting for, how can you ever achieve satisfaction, and, ultimately, happiness? Too restless and ambitious to be content with a life less than they imagined, but intelligent enough to know they will probably have to survive on mediocrity anyway, Michael and Lucy pursue their separate paths in life, achieving, by the end, a quiet acceptance that, while they had never got what they wanted from life, it had been worth it anyway – a much more positive end than Disturbing the Peace, though hardly a rosy outlook.
I so enjoyed this; even though Yates is depressing in his ability to strip life down to its essentials, revealing the often soul destroying truths we try so hard to hide from ourselves, he also demonstrates how precious life is, how important it is to try, to have dreams in the first place, to strive, to have enough passion and ambition to dare to believe you can have something that is more than mediocre. His novels are powerful, and passionate; a siren call to the soul, a manifesto of the human spirit, that will search, that will hope, that will yearn, even if it does get destroyed in the process.
Next up will be The Easter Parade; but not until next week, as I am taking a breather in between this time by reading a very different book, Ivy Compton Burnett’s Pastors and Masters. I’d love for you to join me on the next Yates!