Some things Richard Yates said (according to Blake Bailey).
-Read Jane Austen, “who had balls.”
-Avoid Katherine Mansfield, “who didn’t” (have balls).
-Gina Berriault had “balls to spare”.
-Cheever was a “dirty old man” who wrote about farts and so forth, and his slick prose didn’t compensate for the sprawl of his work.
-“Don’t be seduced by prose, the point is structure”
-John O’Hara is the same as Cheever.
-Ulysses was far better than Finnegan’s Wake.
-Billy Bud was better than Moby Dick because the latter sprawled.
-A High Wind in Jamaica and Invisible Man were wonderful, classically structured novels.
-Characters shouldn’t be too ‘knowy’ about themselves; rather they should reveal themselves obliquely, like the narrator’s in Ford’s A Good Soldier or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
-Avoid ‘privacy’ and ‘preciousness’ –neither fiction nor poetry is ‘a letter home’.
-Honesty is not, per se, a virtue (remember what Anatole France said about the dog masturbating on your leg—‘Sure it’s honest, but who needs it?)
-A writer needs to know the difference between sentiment and sentimentality.
We will be discussing Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road on the 24th of this month at BookPeople. Like the declarations above, his writing is not always easy or pretty, but it always interesting and thoughtful.