Damn it, I love Richard Yates. I suppose I’m now on a campaign to read all of Richard Yates. I’ve read Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (see my thoughts here) and, of course, Revolutionary Road (see my thoughts here). I foresee a problem reading the rest of Yates’ work, since I can’t afford to buy any more books, and the university library only has RR on its shelves (BOO). Liars is the last Yates book available to me. But Christmas is coming, so NUDGE NUDGE WINK WINK bitchez. Eherm.
I read Liars in Love about an hour after I read Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, because I couldn’t help it. Seven short stories, each of them kick-ass. That’s as much an objective opinion as I can give.
There are differences between the first collection and this second one. Delightful ones; I feel like a proud mama watching his scarred little boy grow up to be a decent enough man, haha. The stories here are longer, for one, more detailed, definitely more nuanced. Here, Yates reaches depths he’d only teased us with before. He lingers this time, and really goes deep into the guts of his characters—a trait I noticed was very similar to “Builders,” the last story in his previous collection.
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This is an excerpt from the story “A Natural Girl,” and I think the following lines of the dialogue encapsulate how Yates sees a world were people hurt people not out of recklessness or cruelty, but out of a weariness brought about by too much dissatisfaction. [If I were to go OC on you guys, notice how, in the first line of dialogue, those are statements and not questions. Now, class, what does this say about the character?]
“My God, you really mean this, don’t you. I’ve really lost you, haven’t I. You don’t—love me anymore.”
“That’s right,” she said. “Exactly. I don’t love you anymore.”
“Well, but for Christ’s sake, Susan, why? Can you tell me why?”
“There’s no why,” she said. “There’s no more why to not loving than there is to loving. Isn’t that something most intelligent people understand?”
Interestingly enough, she echoes the same words—the same declaration of not loving—to her father. The story, in fact, opens with In the spring of her sophomore year, when she was twenty, Susan Andrews told her father very calmly that she didn’t love him anymore.
Suffering is so matter-of-fact here, gone are your usual images of heartwrenching, Slide Against the Wall On Your Way Down Crying. Here are words thrown carelessly but wounding for life. Here are characters intense in their stifledness. Here are characters in compromising and defeating positions they see no way out of. See the title story, in which the main character has his marriage disintegrate almost casually, and he develops a relationship with a whore. See “A Compassionate Leave,” in which a soldier deliberately spends all his money on alcohol in Paris that he retains his virginity even in a city of whores. See “Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired,” where we first meet the sculptor Helen, with her grand ambitions and not-so-substantial talent.
I am partial to “Saying Goodbye to Sally” and “Regards at Home”—where we meet, once more, the narrator of “Joseph,” now a grown man with a family and dreams, and yes, his mother is still there. It is in “Regards” that we see a tantalizing view of a—gasp!—a happy ending. But do we trust Yates? Can we? For heaven’s sake, everything in this book is so ominous. “Sally” is just one sad disaster, one after another, and it’s painfully obvious that it’s partially autobiographical. The characters are annoying, for another. It’s this story that I’d like to use to convince people that Yates is such a good writer, you don’t put the book down because you might just whack the characters’ heads for thinking they’re so helpless.
Oh, Richard, I’m so excigamated to read your other stuff.