Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

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!

19 comments

  1. I think you can do that with Yates; I read most of his oeuvre over the space of a month. I think you're right – he is depressing but there is passion there too which makes for such a good read.

  2. I love your analogy at the beginning about reading two books by the same author back-to-back.🙂 When I was younger, I did that all the time, and I'm trying to get back into this year!Yates is the kind of author that doesn't appeal to me at all, lol, but I'm glad you're enjoying him.😉

  3. It's been a while since I've read an author's books back to back – so interesting how you can sense a mellowing over time. Must read more Yates…

  4. Argh! I've been resisting putting more Yates on my "someday" list because I don't know much about his books that aren't Revolutionary Road or The Easter Parade, but then you review another one, and it sounds so, so good.

  5. 'The Easter Parade' is a wonderful book, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's the only one I've read, unfortunately, but this one sounds really good.I rarely read books by the same author back to back – maybe I should try it.

  6. This one sounds good Rachel. I enjoyed Revolutionary Road, and look forward to The Easter Parade which resides on my shelves🙂

  7. I don't know why I haven't read any other Yates after Revolutionary Road! I liked it so much, and I'm enjoying your reviews of Yates's other work.

  8. This sounds like another wonderful Yates book. I will look out for The Easter Parade at the library tomorrow and hopefully they will have it. If not then I heard you might be re-reading Revolutionary Road which I am keen to read and so will definitley join in for that. I love how the book goes off into two parts after the divorce sounds wonderfully interesting.

  9. Perfect timing! Easter Parade was my next book up after To Bed with Grand Music, so count me in.Having a passion for something…anything, is something that I talk about quite a lot with family and friends. I can't imagine a life without it. Poor Lucy.

  10. I think it's really cool you're reading his novels back to back like this–you really get a sense of how his work has changed and developed over time and what themes he continues on with or discards. I would love to read his work, though I only have Revolutionary Road on hand–and have meant to read him for ages. Maybe this year!

  11. I've been wanting to do that, read three books by the same author and then perhaps a biography of the author, really immerse myself in their world.

  12. Verity – Did you? I have never done it because I'm afraid of saturating myself too much in one author, but I'm really enjoying it!Eva – Thanks! I should do this more, I think – it's great to see the changes in an author's style over time. Yes, I'm not sure you would like him…I like depressing books but I know they're not to everyone's taste!JoAnn – Yes, I think he did mellow a fair bit. Please do read some more of him!Teresa – Don't resist – embrace Yates!Kirsty – Hello! I can't wait to get started on The Easter Parade! It would be great if you could join in for the last Yates I'll be reading – Revolutionary Road, which will be a re-read for me.Diane – Great! Look forward to your review!Jenny – I don't know either! Read more, I command you!Simon – Terrific! It will be fantastic to have you joining in!Darlene – That will be brilliant! I know, me too – sadly I have friends who aren't passionate about anything and it does make me wonder what motivates them…Danielle – I think it's cool too, thank you! Revolutionary Road will be by next read after The Easter Parade so do join in for that if you can.Autodidact – Hello! Immersing is wonderful…a kind person from Librarything is sending me his bio so I shall be able to finish the season by finding out just how autobiographical his work is – I can't wait!

  13. I also love the line about reading the same author back to back. Sometimes it can be tricky because you can't get the first book out of your head, and you keep comparing everything to that one.

  14. This is the only Yates I have read. I enjoyed it, not least because it was written by a man – I read it after ‘The Women’s Room’ and found they made a good pair. After French Yates felt very male. I have some Yates short stories and might dig them out over the weekend.

  15. I can finally read your post without looking away every once in a while for fear of a spoiler–I just read Young Hearts Crying. :] I posted my thoughts on my blog: http://bit.ly/bKuPsy — and today (Feb. 03) is Richard Yates’ birthday. :]

    Enjoy our Yates!

  16. After your review, I think this will be my next Yates read – it sounds fabulous in an emotionally draining way! With Revolutionary Road I felt almost every emotion of the characters, incredible writing and I can’t wait to read another one. I love your idea of having a Yates season and hope you enjoy your re read of Revolutionary Road.

    1. Oh do do read it. It is emotionally draining but worth it – it’s quite a cathartic experience and isn’t entirely devoid of hope!
      Thanks – I’m so glad I did this, I’ve never really read an author in such a concentrated way before and I’ve loved the experience. I’m now reading his biography and it’s so fascinating to understand all the biographical ties to his writing.

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