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Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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I finally got around to reading Richard Yates’ much lauded first novel, Revolutionary Road, and, despite all the hype and blurbery, it was a huge disappointment. No, it was not the sort of patent PoMo garbage that is pushed by the David Foster Wallace or Dave Eggers sort, nor is it the deliterate crap foisted upon readers by T.C. Boyle nor Joyce Carol Oates. In fact, despite stylistic differences and thematic concerns that do not mix, the writer Yates’ book most brought to my mind was the vastly overrated Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison — specifically her unfortunately overpraised novel Beloved. Like that book, Revolutionary Road could have used a good editor to weed through the structural flaws and the melodramatic characters.

Perhaps the biggest connection that hit me with both books is that the main characters and story that both novels focused on were not the best characters and stories in either book. Beloved’s silliness could have been redeemed had the novel focused on the character that was imprisoned in Andersonville, but after creating this great character, Morrison did nothing with him and dropped him to continue on with the banal and tearjerking tale of mother and ghost. One of the first rules a great artist learns and follows is to be willing to recognize and drop something that is not working in favor of something that is, because one can always return to the original failed premise later, and retry. But, sometimes there is only one opportunity to go with something that can lead to greatness. Similarly, Yates failed the same test as Morrison, opting for the cartoon cutout caricatures of the novel’s main couple, Frank and April Wheeler, instead of exploring the vastly more well sketched interior life of the supporting character, Shep Campbell.

This failure to seize the moment, or as Yates and his generation might have melodramatically cheered, ‘Carpe diem!,’ lies at the heart of Yates’ fatal flaw as a writer, in general. When I reviewed Yates’ Selected Stories, I noticed this tendency, too. I wrote, ‘Yates is a very good writer, at his best, which is much better than many short stories from far bigger name writers like Fitzgerald, O’Connor, Faulkner, Salinger, and the like. Yet, he never quite breaches greatness in any of the stories. They lack an X Factor — be it a great end, a tale that works on multiple levels, or a sustained lyric impulse to his descriptions and metaphors. Some critics have cited him as an influence on Raymond Carver, and there is certainly a linkage in the tales, but Carver achieves greatness in quite a sizable number of his tales, because he is daring, and risky. Yates, for all his skill at portraying the yearning nobodies of life, is a safe and steady writer, yet his best lines and tales seep inward like the best of writing does. He has no abominable tales, like Carver does, but his best pales to Carver’s….’

As an addendum I should note that the longer that Yates’ tales went on the worse they got. He was a writer for whom concision was an ally, and this novel shows that length worked against him, for he tends to ramble, allow his characters’ conversations to go on a bit too long.

But, the initial problem (a major structural flaw) occurs in the first few pages of the book wherein the reader is thrust into a play recital, only to then pull back into a full blown argument by the novel’s lead characters — a pair of hollow ex-Bohemians with no real insight nor depth in regards to themselves nor their lives. Thus, the reader does not have time to empathize with the lead characters, nor to invest themselves in those characters — as surrogates, doppelgangers, nor heroes.

And, although I usually detail the plot of most books and films I review, I will not this time, for many of the plot details are simply so pointless and soap operatic that they pull the novel down even further in my estimation every time I think of how Yates could have possibly thought he was saying something of complexity or even necessity of the human condition. Granted, one might argue that he was in a vanguard of ‘realistic’ portrayers of the ‘Suburbia is hell’ meme that has been with us for half a century. Except that reality does not support that. John O’Hara and John Cheever, not to mention Irwin Shaw, covered much of this territory, earlier and better, than Yates does. About a third of the way into the novel, the Wheelers are arguing over April’s pregnancy, and instead of actually contemplating how a third child would affect their lives, mortgage, the two children they already have, etc., the conversation descends into a poseur argument and false dichotomy over whether or not the family’s move into suburbia was a resignation from life.

Now, I won’t even get in to the shallowness and callowness of such a puerile claim, much less its dialectic value within the narrative. But, it’s a vivid example of Yates trying to shoehorn in and hammer home his rather trite and heavy-handed thesis that the suburbs stink. The problem is that this demonization of the exteriors of their characters lives is never really explored, much less the interiors of these characters. They remain as hollow as their claimed exteriors, and the scene reeks of artifice, for these characters would never have been able to make such an observation, much less use claims and counterclaims, in this vein, as weapons.

But, let me pull back. So, sans details, here is the novel: it charts the end of the Wheelers’ marriage via April’s suicide through a home abortion. Both of the principals cheat on each other — Frank with a young secretary in the corporate job his father expected for him and April with Shep, the clueless neighbor of the Wheelers, who has a boner for April throughout the book, despite the fact that she finds him unworthier of him than her husband. We see co-workers, neighbors, and hangers-on, who are of no real import, for the novel so quickly delves into the Wheelers that the reader never gets a chance to lax out and enjoy any of the ambiance the rest of the book could have provided. We are so quickly tossed into the shallow maelstrom of the Wheeler marriage that there is no chance to even empathize, much less sympathize, with the characters.

In contrast, Shep’s character is shown in drips and drabs for a good portion of the book, until he gets a full chapter devoted to himself. And because we have been teased with who and what Shep is, from others’ perspectives, once we get Shep as the star of his chapter, we like him — even though he is no deeper — albeit less pretentious — than the Wheelers. We have all known and worked with Sheps of both sexes. So, the tossing of the reader into the Wheeler tsunami before we even get a chance to see the individual characters as people — contemplative, vain, rude, happy, humorous, scornful — is Yates’ first huge structural flaw in the novel.

The opening simply is ill-wrought in design, and ill-crafted in execution. Ironically, the book’s ending is its strongest suit, for it is well-designed and crafted — at least after we get April’s death, for the novel than pulls away from the Wheelers (we find out Frank is zomboid and that the couple’s children — characters that are so underused — when in reality they would be central to the couple’s problems in a realistic portrayal of marriage — are now with Frank’s brother), and shows us Shep and his wife Milly discussing the Wheelers to the new couple that bought their house, then an even further pan out to an older couple who bicker throughout the book until, as he does throughout the novel, the old man turns off his hearing aide to literally tune out his wife.

The second major structural flaw in the novel, and it is one that lingers throughout the work, not just the opening, is the use of an omniscient narrator — or, at least a semi-omniscient one. Perhaps Yates ‘needed’ to write the book in this way, initially, but this is where revision comes in, and in subsequent drafts it should have become apparent that the book should have been told from either April’s or Frank’s point of view. Given their immanent unlikeability as characters (even their unrelatability) the first person perspective would have been the better move.

Think of Holden Caulfield, from Yates’ rival, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. A detestable character, but the reader empathizes with him because he is the narrator. Also, as he is unreliable, and predictably so, both what Caulfield relates to the reader, and how he relates it, take on added significance, and add a parallax to even mundane events, that is lost in an omniscient narration (i.e., the old less can be more notion). Readers simply do not care about the psyches of omniscient narrators who look down upon their subjects as if under a bell jar, or in a petri dish.

But, to return to the question as to who should have been the narrator, even telling the tale from Shep’s point of view (and in reflection) would have worked, and, in fact, given the function he plays in the book — dramatically, that of observer and yearner — his would have been the best choice for narrator. As it is, Revolutionary Road reads like an interesting first draft that a good editor could have made into a good book, possibly a great one. Job One, however, would have to have been choosing a first person narrator. With that, especially with Shep as the narrator, one could have worked through the structural problems of tossing the Wheelers’ marital strife directly into the readers’ laps. It also would have left more gaps in the tale- unimportant ones, but ones that each reader could gave imbued on their own, thus emotionally drawing the reader in to the tale as an ‘investor.’

In short, Revolutionary Road reads like a Paleozoic forerunner of the modern need, taught in MFA Creative Writing mills, to describe everything possible. While Yates refrained from physical details, his desire to try to detail every loathing, lust, disgust, and excess of the Wheelers — narcissistic Frank and delusional April, wears thin, and amounts to padding. One of the truisms of writing fiction, that helps detail character, and in far fewer words than description, is observation. This is done not by describing what the characters observe, in detail, but just noting what things are important to them. At his best moments, Yates does this in the book, such as when Frank lusts for his co-worker. What makes the moment good is not that Frank lusts for her, nor that he describes her in detail, but the small, offhand recognitions of certain aspects of her. That this could be done, if Frank were the narrator, would have made many of the scenes of him displaying his seamier side dramatically unnecessary, for we would have been in his head and ‘felt’ what he did. The need to explicate it via an omniscient would be superfluous, and the 337 page book could have been trimmed to under 200 with virtually no loss of narrative essence.

A good example of this comes early on in the book, and I will detail that in a moment. But, I want to acknowledge that Yates does have several dozen moments in the book that show his skill as a writer, and that he is not a hack in the Eggers/Oates vein. Let me do that by quoting from a review my wife, Jessica Schneider wrote:

Here is an example when Frank and April get into a fight:

Then the fight went out of control. It quivered their arms and legs and wrenched their faces into shapes of hatred, it urged them harder and deeper into each other’s weakest points, showing them cunning ways around each other’s strongholds and quick chances to switch tactics, feint, and strike again.

Notice how the narrative trick Yates uses by referring to the fight as “it”. They did not quiver their arms and legs, but it did, almost as though he is referring to the “fight” as something outside themselves — something that is controlling them, wrenching their faces into “shapes of hatred” rather than mere “hatred” which would have been more cliché.

I also cannot stress the excellent dialogue throughout this book enough, for the intensity and realism of it reminded me of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night as well as The Iceman Cometh.

There is also another effective scene where Frank is confronting a woman he had an affair with, and with the intention of telling her he wants to break it off, he lets her know they need to “have a talk.” Actually, what Frank tells her is, “Look Maureen. I think we ought to have a talk.”

What immediately follows is this:

What happened after that, even while it was happening, was less like a reality than a dream. Only part of his consciousness was involved; the rest of him was a detached observer of the scene, embarrassed and helpless but relatively confident that he soon would wake up. The way her face clouded over when he began to talk, the way she sprang off his lap and fled for her dressing gown, which she clutched around her throat as tightly as a raincoat in a downpour she paced the carpet — “Well; in that case there really isn’t anything more to say, is there? There really wasn’t any point in your coming over today, was there?” –these seemed to exist as rankling memories even before they were events: so did the way he followed her around the room, abjectly twisting one hand in the other as he apologized and apologized.

  I would just like readers to notice how this breaks every little clichéd rule writers are told in workshop 101 writing: show don’t tell. Here Yates is merely telling us what happened, rather than showing it because going through the dialogue isn’t necessary since we already know what the characters would say anyway. Yates fills Revolutionary Road with effective dialogue and yet he omits those parts that are not needed, such as in this scene, where the readers are just as much a “detached observer” as is he. That is the sign of great narrative ability, and Yates has that. Sometimes it is what a writer doesn’t say or reveal that can make a scene….

Jessica makes excellent points about Yates ability to provide interesting descriptions of things like hate, and telling things well instead of showing. But, I have to disagree with both her implicit claim that Yates consistently tells the tale well, rather than show it, for melodrama simply is not ‘telling’ a thing well, but telling it cheaply, and her description of the book’s dialogue scenes as ‘excellent dialogue throughout this book.’ There were a dozen or so examples of excellent dialogue, but there were also several dozen more examples of banal dialogue that could have used one of Yates’ interesting descriptions (as of hate) instead, to summarize the moment that the ordinary and delusive individuals shared. In short, both claims, while having specific examples to display them, are not consistent throughout the book, and this schizophrenic quality exerts a svere drag on the reader’s ability to plod on.

Now, let me get negative on the writing in the book, and an example of Yates’ overdescription killing observation. This is from early in the book, when we read the omniscient narrator describing Frank’s observation of his wife’s reactions to him — just note the extraneous levels immanent in my description of the scene!:

  [Frank] started toward her with the corners of his mouth stretched tight in a look that he hoped would be full of love and humor and compassion; what he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say ‘Listen: you were wonderful.’ But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him she didn’t want to be touched, which left him uncertain what to with his hands, and that was when it occurred to him that ‘You were wonderful’ might be exactly the wrong thing to say — condescending, or at the very least naïve and sentimental, and much too serious.

The observation of Frank’s mouth is a good one, but the very tightness suggests his real feelings at that moment. Does the reader really need to know what he hoped his look would be? Given the context of a performance that was not so good — as described by Yates — what else would a look like Frank’s be hiding? Here is a good example of a writer needing to pound home the obvious and not trust his readers. We then get the recoil of April, a recoil which, in the moment of the narrative, can only mean she realizes she had not given a good performance, and thus makes superfluous Frank’s described thoughts.

  Given the milieu of a suburban amateur play production that has gone awry, if not bombed, and given we are seeing/reading of a husband’s approach to console his wife, would not an intelligent reader get from this —

  [Frank] started toward her with the corners of his mouth stretched tight. But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him she didn’t want to be touched.

— everything implied the longer version overtly states? I know I do. And while I may be a more astute critic than most, this moment is one of many such in the book, so many that, in fact, even a pedestrian reader, after the, say, 17th such moment in the book, would likely be feeling a bit condescended to. And, as writer who appreciates taking the intelligence of my readership into account, I would actually have written the second sentence as: But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him to say nothing. The silence would imply the lack of physical contact as well.

But, let me return to the poor opening of the book, that I mentioned earlier, and quote from it, bolding the clichés, modifiers, phrases, and incidental words that, even from the start, show a writer trying much to hard to affect a style (mostly melodrama), rather than tell a story, and letting a natural poesy emerge from the contrast of scenes and dialogue and characters described sparely, not in filigrees. I am not arguing that filigreed writing cannot be good — at his best, Marcel Proust and others proved this could be so. My point is that Yates’ writing, in general, in this novel, and, specific to many scenes and descriptions, is florid overkill (verging on puerility) — and I'm being generous. It's also not an example of good observation that enhances narrative nor characterization, especially from the first poor paragraph:

The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking out over the footlights of an empty auditorium. They hardly dared to breathe as the short, solemn figure of their director emerged from the naked seats to join them on stage, as he pulled a stepladder raspingly from the wings and climbed halfway up its rungs to turn and tell them, with several clearings of his throat, that they were a damned talented group of people and a wonderful group of people to work with.

‘It hasn't been an easy job,’ he said, his glasses glinting soberly around the stage. ‘We’ve had a lot of problems here, and quite frankly I'd more or less resigned myself not to expect too much. Well, listen. Maybe this sounds corny, but something happened up here tonight. Sitting out there tonight I suddenly knew, deep down, that you were all putting your hearts into your work for the first time.’ He let the fingers of one hand splay out across the pocket of his shirt to show what a simple, physical thing the heart was; then he made the same hand into a fist, which he shook slowly and wordlessly in a long dramatic pause, closing one eye and allowing his moist lower lip to curl out in a grimace of triumph and pride. ‘Do that again tomorrow night,’ he said, ‘and we’ll have one hell of a show.’

They could have wept with relief. Instead, trembling, they cheered and laughed and shook hands and kissed one another, and somebody when out for a case of beer and they all sang unanimously, that they’d better knock it off and get a good night’s sleep.

‘See you tomorrow!’ they called, as happy as children, and riding home under the moon they found they could roll down the windows of their cars and let the air in, with its health-giving smells of loam and young flowers. It was the first time many of the Laurel Players had allowed themselves to acknowledge the coming of spring.

The year was 1955 and the place was a part of western Connecticut where three swollen villages had lately been merged by a wide and clamorous highway called Route Twelve. The Laurel Players were an amateur company, but a costly and very serious one, carefully recruited from among the younger adults of all three towns, and this was to be their maiden production. All winter, gathering in one another’s living rooms for excited talks about Ibsen and Shaw and O’Neill, and then for the show of hands in which a common-sense majority chose The Petrified Forest, and then for the preliminary casting, they had felt their dedication growing stronger every week. They might privately consider their director a funny little man (and he was, in a way: he seemed incapable of any but a very earnest manner of speaking, and would often conclude his remarks with a little shake of the head that caused his cheeks to wobble) but they liked and respected him, and they fully believed in most of the things he said. ‘Any play deserves the best that any actor has to give,’ he’d told them once, and another time: ‘Remember this. We’re not just putting on a play here. We're establishing a community theater, and that's a pretty important thing to be doing.’

The trouble was that from the very beginning they had been afraid they would end by making fools of themselves, and they had compounded that fear by being afraid to admit it. At first their rehearsals had been held on Saturdays — always, it seemed, on the kind of windless February or March afternoon when the sky is white, the trees are black, and the brown fields and hummocks of the earth lie naked and tender between curds of shriveled snow. The Players, coming out of their various kitchen doors and hesitating for a minute to button their coats or bull on their gloves, would see a landscape in which only a few very old, weathered houses seemed to belong; it made their own homes look as weightless and impermanent, as foolishly misplaced as a great many bright new toys that had been left outdoors overnight and rained on. Their automobiles didn’t look right either — unnecessarily wide and gleaming in the colors of candy and ice cream, seeming to wince at each splatter of mud, they crawled apologetically down the broken roads that led from all directions to the deep, level slab of Route Twelve. Once there the cars seemed able to relax in an environment all their own, a long bright valley of colored plastic and plate glass and stainless steel — KING KONE, MOBILGAS, SHOPORAMA, EAT — but eventually they had to turn off, one by one, and make their way up the winding country road that led to the central high school; they had to pull up and stop in the quiet parking lot outside the high-school auditorium.

‘Hi!’ the Players would shyly call to one another.

‘Hi!…’ ‘Hi!…’ And they’d go reluctantly inside.

But Yates’ prose falters not only in its literal execution, but in the lack of conveying a good story. The tale — ostensibly the death of a marriage — is not only melodramatic even as it is run of the mill, but encrusted with noxious forerunners that plague bad modern novels, such as the necessity to have a sage who is above all and ‘tells the truth.’ In most novels that are considered classic, such a role (if it exists) is fulfilled by the very omniscient narrator Yates chose to tell the tale. Instead, Yates has to set that role aside, and into a minor character — John Givings, the mentally disturbed son of the Wheelers’ real estate agent, Mrs. Givings. The book starts with him firmly a cheerleader of the rebellious Wheelers, against the conforming strictures of ‘dread modern society.’ But, predictably, he soon turns out to be something from a bad Stephen King novel — a cheerleader turned critical dreadnought who chides the couple, especially Frank, as phonies. He accuses Frank of purposely impregnating April with the fetus that precipitates the death-causing self-abortion just so that he will not have to make any real choices in his life. And, not surprisingly, many of the book’s critics have latched on to this character as somehow being the mouthpiece for Yates’ real feelings about his main characters. Whether true or not, though, is irrelevant to the fact that such a character trivializes the very real problems that occur in very real marriages, the sort that Yates assiduously avoids in favor of the melodrama that gets its easy out and ventilation through the use of such Johnny One Note caricatures as John Givings. While none of the specific scenes, alone, is particularly noxious, the device of the ‘truthtelling son’ is overused, and a blatant symptom that Yates preferred to show his readers ‘unreal characters’ who were unwilling and unable to voice the rather obvious problems in their lives, not because he thought such folks really existed, but because he wanted to so trope his novel away from reality and into melodrama of the sort he found personally and vicariously satisfying, as well as more easily wrought; even as it left his readers yawning and yearning for the even easier resoluble soap operas of television

In many ways, the Wheelers are the literary equivalents of the central character in Woody Allen’s 1978 drama, Interiors. Played by the actress Mary Beth Hurt, the lead character is a young woman named Joey, the middle sister of three, who, despite wealth and privilege, a male companion who loves and supports her, still feels a desire to create — something, anything, even though she is clueless as to what to create, and her past attempts have been met with derision by those around her because she lacks any real talent for art. Joey is ordinary, but so ordinary that she lacks even the insight to grasp that she is ordinary. And the Wheelers are Joey squared. They are Joeys, but instead of crafting a novel of corresponding depth and complexity to ground their situation in an adult and compelling manner, Yates either took the easy way out, or was simply overwhelmed by the length and complexity of the novel form. Or, both. And, having skimmed over some of his short stories again, this seems the likeliest reality.

How else to explain the Dumbest Possible Action trope of the novel; wherein, just as in Hollywood films, the characters do not act as moderately competent human beings would, but act in dumb ways just to push the heavyhanded plot along? How else to explain the lack of depth in the characterizations, rather than the characters? Not the lack of the characters depths, but Yates inability to show that lack well? I.e., the Wheelers may be talentless and clueless, but Yates did not have to portray such so stalely and ineptly. His cluelessness as to the depths of their cluelessness is akin to writing about characters being bored by crafting dull prose — that sort of recapitulation is simply not good writing. And, I could write a whole essay several times the length of this one just on how utterly clueless Yates is in his grasp of the female psyche.

From April on down to the lesser female characters, Yates bases all of his female characters on how a male (with added tits and a clit) would react to a given situation. As thin as Frank and all the other male characters, save Shep, are limned, the females get off even worse — reacting either on histrionics, predictable stereotypes of female behavior, or plain old male fantasies run amok. By contrast, even Shep gets a scene where he is self-aware of a bit of his phoniness, where, after April’s death, he senses that he is physically over-emoting the heaving of his body in grief, then corrects himself. There are a few other moments like that in the novel (such as the pitch perfect descriptions of Frank’s office close encounters with the young girl he’ll take as a lover, as well as whys and wherefores of the fantasies they induce in him) — but all of these moments are with male characters; not a one with female characters. April Wheeler, is, in essence, a total male fantasy, and, to give credit where it is die, at least Yates is fairly up front about her irreality from the very earliest scenes of her entrancing other male characters as they practice the community theater play.

Overall, Revolutionary Road is not a bad novel, but it’s not even a particularly good one. It’s, at best, a passable novel that is best seen as a first draft with potential — one rushed into publication and overpraised, for whatever reasons, because it was seen as a herald of a ‘new’ approach to American life in the 20th Century suburban sphere. The presumed ‘firsts’ in any human endeavor often take on greater import than it has in reality, and in retrospect, and Richard Yates’ first novel seems to be a stellar example of this unfortunate tendency. Hell, even I’m guilty of that, to a degree, but in realizing that, I see how even my first impressions of the novel were higher than what I am left with every time I reconsider what actually worked and did not work. So, here I will end this review before my critical claim sinks another notch lower. Now, there’s empathy for you!

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About Dan Schneider

  • Costello

    Are you trying to prove to yourself or everyone else how great you are? Rather a sad display in either case

  • zingzing

    if you don’t want people to think you’re a bigot, don’t make comments easily construed as bigotry. you knew what you were doing with the late comment #26, so don’t play dumb.

    and what makes you think you’re being objective? your opinions are your own, but they are not absolute. just because you say something could be better done this way or that way does not mean it would necessarily be better done that way.

    if you consider will’s criticism to be “BAD,” i consider yours to be lacking. you seem to be simply ignorant of one of the novel’s major points, at least from how i read it.

    either way, you shouldn’t go around personally insulting those that would disagree with you right off the bat. it doesn’t help. you certainly came off as a troll, which will only get you the same reaction on the internet. so if you feel i (or roger or any of the others on this thread) came off as a troll, you fully asked for it.

    so blame yourself.

    (and if you want to get around the editors, you have to qualify your insults. you can’t be fucking dumb about it.)

  • BTW- here’s an interview with an up and coming historian that goes well beyond typical online crap.

  • Zing: why did it take you so long to utter some intelligence? Your take, like Will’s is wrong, but at least coherent. Go back and look at the replies of mine. I addressed every one of Will’s and others’ comments.

    When you and others were rude you got bitchslapped.

    And I did not NOT like the book- I objectively showed the many flaws that prevent it from being called great or good. There is a difference. Thi sis why the article is multi-page and not just a bumper sticker.

    And I can certainly take legit criticism- but I can also bitchslap illegitimate ones, and point by point refute BAD criticism. Like many online people, you simply do NOT like that I do so. I can defend my claims and debunk false claims. It’s called critical thinking. It’s hypocritical of you to even claim hypocrisy on my part when I clearly respond forcefully and directly. If I just blew it off you’d have some gripe.

    It’s also hypocritical of you to throw a false claim like homophobia around when a) I have no clue over the sexes of two ANONYMOUS trolls who are jointly verbally masturbating in tandem. The comment simply and humorously sums up your lack of intellect shown till then, and your typical troll like behaviors. I called you out on it. You had no defense, so you throw up a bogus claim to try and evince that I somehow am guilty of bigotry when it was you and others guilty of trolling.

    And this is not belligerence, just schooling you and others on how to properly and maturely engage in fruitful dialectic online. In short, think twice before you embarrass yourself; there will ALWAYS be someone better and smarter at debating. That’s not arrogance, just advice.

    Will, in fact, appreciate my comments, and is now in contact with me privately. So, he did NOT take any offense. His opinions were wrong, as I and Keith demonstrated, but he did not piss on things like a child. Look at what you are doing. You are PRESUMING an offense where none was, and where none was directed AT YOU! This is just your self-justification for trolling.

    You know what I do when I come across an article online that I disagree with? Be it political, on art, science or philosophy? From creationists, Right Wingers, or PC Elitists? Guess? I just click away. I don’t waste time arguing w those w closed minds. Clearly that is not me, as the exchanges with Will, where I did him the courtesy of directly addressing every point, prove.

    So, it comes down to this. You simply disliked something and had no way of intellectually refuting it, so decided to act out of your worst trollish instincts, then try to justify it by claiming things about me that are demonstrably false- a classic straw man argument.

    Your actions are not really sickening, though. Just predictable, and silly, as I could have narrated almost every reply doled out on this thread….because your replies and others are not unique and are product of the American hive mind that HATES anything that forces it out of its comatose and lazy state.

    On the positive side, I did get one- one- glimmer in this last reply, that you are not totally hopeless. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

    That’s why my writing and replies ARE valuable, and given that I deal with 1500+ emails and queries/requests PER WEEK at my website, it says something that I have taken time, at least once a day, to address what otherwise are silly, self-serving, and mostly pointless juvenile antics from you and others. Why?

    Read your last comment’s first paragraph. You wrote it. I evinced it.

  • zingzing

    i’ve read the review (and the book) and i agree with will that the melodrama has its own point. as much as anything else, it’s a book about how dramatic representations in art affect our responses to personal drama. is it any wonder that it all starts with a play? i don’t think yates is the greatest writer ever, or this is the greatest novel ever, but you seemed to have missed a great deal of the novel’s strengths. which would explain why you don’t like it.

    but my major fault with this article came in the comments field, where you came across as arrogant (you aren’t the greatest [long list of things you claim to be the greatest ever at] ever, sir), hypocritical (you can dish it out, but can’t take it without getting personal), homophobic (check comment #26), and belligerent towards anyone that would dare disagree with you.

    in short, you come off like a dick in the comments. will lobbed a ball into your court and you pissed on it. that he still played was good on him. you did nothing to deserve his reply. i’d hope someone who doles out criticism for a living could take a little. but your word is god, according to you. and that’s sickening.

  • zingzing

    dan clearly knows he’s arrogant. he just can’t stand it when people point it out.

  • [Edited]

    El: Nasty? You’re the one who trolls BC with nasty and inane comments on dozens, if not hundreds of threads, well beyond the few where I’ve embarrassed you.

    As for Keith: I actually asked for people’s opinions on whether or not Will had any potential to move beyond his rather rote and juvenile thinking on art. The consensus was yes, but he needs to work on it. I certainly did not ask nor need any help to flick off the silly masturbations of you and the monosyllabic crowd.

    El, take a look at this thread. As I and Keith- who, btw, showed me much understanding of verse I did not know he had in him,have shown, Will’s claims about art, the book, and my revisions on some poem, were demonstrably wrong. Nonetheless, despite often dealing w trolls like you on such threads, I gave the kid the benefit of the doubt. I even offered to have him engage me so I could help him learn.

    This despite his misreadings, intentional or not. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

  • What on earth are you talking about, Dan? We had a disagreement. Not sure how you could blow it so far out of proportion, but if that’s your perspective, it explains why you are so nasty to those with a different opinion.

    Keith, thanks for the explanation to a simple question. Seemed odd for you to show up out of the blue and challenge Will, so I was curious. I would have thought someone who considers himself such a great thinker wouldn’t need help to fight his battles.

  • will


    I can see all of your points, as I could Dan’s originally, and I still stand by all of mine, so at this point we’ve reached the point, where based on individual opinions and entrenchment of said opinions, we could go on endlessly. At this point it comes down to what someone is looking for out of poetry in general–my primary interests in writing are clarity, facility, elegance, charm, wit, restraint, and consideration of language (within these parameters). It’s why I would choose to read Keats over someone like Blake; or just about any writer over John Updike. I tend to value natural talent over sheer effort (Yates, for the record, is an effort guy).

    But I appreciate your in-depth reply. And now I must bid this thread adieu, before the body of replies exceeds the length of the review.

  • Keith

    Will: the line is the essential unit of poetry, but I would not say that Dan thinks only of the line and not of the whole; indeed, most of his revisions are aimed at heightening the whole by making incremental changes at the level of the line.

    Anyway, to address your points: Dan does say in his essay that he thinks that starting at the second stanza has the benefit both of condensing the poem a bit by avoiding unnecessary repetition (the important recapitulation is beginning and end, not beginning) and that stanza 2 is similar enough to stanza 1 to contain its meaning within itself while also creating the illusion that change has occurred. Essentially, both stanza 1 and the final stanza end with mood-setting invocations of nature, but rather than rotely repeat the lines, Dan’s version makes them different in order to subtly show the journey that has occurred. Whether this is more powerful is probably arguable, but the main point of his revision was to condense the first two stanzas into one; TOP is primarily a series on revision, after all, and while he gives his reasoning for the changes that he makes, he never says that arguments can’t be made to the contrary. If you like, use the first stanza instead of the second, but I do think that the initial repetition was pretty unnecessary and that its removal was a good idea (brevity and all that).

    Second stanza: One of Dan’s major critical points is that a cliche, if unredeemed in some way, is ALWAYS a bad thing in art, for it shows a lack of craft and consideration on the part of the author. I personally don’t think the lines are stilted or hard to understand; they retain pretty much the same music as the original but sans the cliche. The anguish is the first thing to appear on the brow, spread evenly across it like dew, and so the color starts coming out of her cheeks as quickly as it has on the rest of her face. It’s a poetic way to say that the color is coming out of her face sans the cliches and melodrama of the original; so what’s the problem? It may not be quite as easily understood as the original, but it’s not THAT tough.

    Third stanza: It’s a fairly minor semantic difference, but you do possibly have a point with this one. I don’t personally think that “defiled” makes that big of a difference, as the point either way is that the narrator sees that the girl is DTF (as the kids say) and ready for his lovin’. Perhaps beguiled would work as well, but it also makes it seem as though the sexual vibes are emanating from the man (i.e. she’s been beguiled) rather than the original implication that it’s the girl who instigates it all. So, I think Dan’s word choice is closer to the original voice and intent, but I suppose I could see arguments going either way.

    Fourth stanza: Giving way to passion and not noticing anything the rest of the day is phrased in a rather cliche way in the original; by changing it to “the day’s throng” you are essentially changing it from telling to showing, i.e. showing what it is that’s being missed amid the hurried sexual frenzy.

    Sixth stanza: it really depends upon what you want to emphasize in the poem, doesn’t it? Dan’s version does de-emphasize the hidden nature of the woman’s two-facedness, which does take away a bit of the shock of the end; at the same time, though, I do think that there’s power in the fact that he’s aware of the little imperfections on the journey there – soiled honey, strange languages – and yet still doesn’t seem able to put the pieces together until it’s all over. It gives us insight into the character at the expense of the visceral reaction of the audience at the end, which is perhaps an unfortunate loss but replaced by something equally as valuable, perhaps even more so. This is perhaps a consequence of the fact that one poet revising another’s work will always change the voice a little bit, but I don’t think the difference is SO profound that there’s not value in Dan’s choice of replacement.

    Seventh Stanza: The difference, though, is that the eyes are “mild made,” which essentially captures the fact that as far as the narrator knows, she’s been calmed down by him; indeed, I might argue that this actually makes the end a bit MORE shocking. Keats’ final version does have the “sigh full sore,” though, which is another way of redeeming the original cliche, since the sigh comes seemingly from her own tiredness after a good romp in bed. It’s arguable which of the revisions is better, I think; I prefer Dan’s, but it can go either way.

    Ninth stanza: Dan didn’t say that duplicity of meaning makes something not cliche, merely that that’s a common result of veering away from cliche; “cold hill side” has duplicity, but both meanings are fairly cliche (as well as unnecessary, since the first stanza of the poem sets up the fact that it’s cold). “Lone hill side” crystallize the image a bit further – by, as you say, making the hill the only one in the area- and also maintains the original meaning of the knights own loneliness.

    It’s good that you can see where he’s coming from, but I’d argue that pretty much every change that he made DID change the poem for the better; certain things are lost, but what’s gained by the concision and lack of cliches ultimately ends up improving it. The cliches of the poem aren’t colloquialisms justifiable by the fact that they’re being spoken by a layperson but pure and simple cliches of the Romantic sort, which do end up dating the poem and making its strings more obvious.

    El Bicho: I took interest because Dan forwarded the sudden response to the e-list to get our opinion, as he often does. Simple enough.

  • [Edited]

    El: Didn’t you have enough the last time I denuded your passive/aggressiveness?

    Zing: [Edited] There’s nothing hypocritical about responding to claims and debunking them. that’s the essence of dialectic. What is hypocritical is pretending you have a point and hiding behind stupidity and nastiness, anonymously to boot.

    Will: I’ll await any further contact.

  • zingzing

    “Usually this sort of thing happens when somebody posts something old to a message board or the like.”

    or when people can see which articles are getting comments through some sort of “fresh comments” type page located on the site.

    dan’s initial (and continued) reaction to a bit of criticism about his criticism was horribly hypocritical, aggressive and arrogant. the internet has been known to respond to such things.

  • Out of curiosity, why the sudden outburst of interest by Keith in defending Dan, two years after a review was posted?

  • will

    If I took my work to an editor, and they proposed changes such as this, I’d promptly take my work to another editor. The strength of poetry is the whole; every line isn’t going to be great. Hell, it’s like texting a girl, you have to use a bunch of sometimes average, sometimes good lines to set yourself up for the one perfect line that couldn’t be said any better. The initial poem is effective, the second is perhaps more original, more visionary, more what have you on a line by line basis, but at the cost of overall effectiveness.

  • will


    re 1st Person Narrator: To me, and what I was trying to communicate, I felt that having Shep be the 1st person narrator would’ve undermined the detached, sarcastic tone of the novel. Shep is sentimental and maudlin and incapable of cutting insight (hell, he barely noticed April was pregnant). Unless Yates wanted to go all Faulkner and have seeming morons have sudden Elizabethan poetic insights, then a story told by Shep would be a story about Shep. I thought that the narration was one of the most effective devices Yates uses, a sort of directed ‘indirect discourse’. I merely disagreed.

    re Other points addressed in review: All the points I brought up were addressed in the review, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought them up…. I just felt they weren’t addressed adequately (hence my bringing them up).

    re This Old Poem/Keats: This is a preliminary draft, first of all, not the definitive version Keats had published, which is the superior version musically and poetically (and eliminates at least one ‘cliche’). Now as per issues:

    Elimination of repetition: unnecessary, in my opinion. The poem as a whole is lean and concise as is, especially for Keats, and removal of the first stanza merely rushes the poem into action. It’s like something the New Yorker would do to fiction: ‘Well just cut out the first paragraph so we get into story starts sooner without reference, mood, atmosphere, and intent be damned.’ Furthermore, Keats uses the repetition in the opening line and the closing line to bring the poem full circle and the use of deja-vu. It’s a journey poem; the knight journeys, he returns. In Scheider’s we don’t even know where the knight is until the end. His journey is minimized.

    Now let’s look at the second stanza:

    I see a lily on thy brow
    With anguish first, even as dew,
    And on thy cheeks its fading grows,
    Fast with the rest, too.

    This is what I mean by stilted; this isn’t elegant; anguish first? even as dew? with the rest? What the hell does this mean? Sure Keats gets a little melodramatic here, but the cliches are harmless, they’re elegant, and Fred the fifth grader can figure out what they mean. Schneider’s version doesn’t create a picture in my head, except anguish first makes it seems like the knight is having an unpleasant experience upon seeing the narrator.

    Third Stanza: This isn’t terrible; ‘defiled’ fits in with the meaning of the poem, yes, but ONLY in retrospect. But the poem’s strength is its initial ambiguity; wild has all type of connotations that defiled does not. Now we know La Belle Dame is a more or less malignant creature. . And ‘eyes were wild’ isn’t even a cliche here; here eyes were literally wild, wild means what it does; she i s wild. Even ‘beguiled’ might work, but ‘defiled’? I don’t find flowers for girls that defile me with their eyes, I’d take her straight to the grot but I wouldn’t leave my number.

    Fourth Stanza: Throng works, but why? ‘Pacing steed’ already covers the urgency.

    Sixth Stanza: Unnecessary. Again it hints to strongly of the coming disaster, the knight, who’s telling this part still found the honey sweet; it adds poignancy to he desertion. And wild honey is the kind you find in the woods….

    Seventh Stanza: Keat’s actual version goes like this:

    She took me to her elfin grot,
    And there she wept and sighed full sore,
    And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
    With kisses four.

    If you change ‘wild’ to ‘mild’ it changes the Poet’s intent. Again, if a girl gives me mild eyes I won’t be suprised if she’s not there in the morning.

    Eight Stanza: Changes the meaning. The ‘cold hill’s side’ isn’t cliche. It’s winter; it’s cold; it’s even colder for the night, who’s suffering from his loss. It’s duplicity of meaning, by your definition of cliche, isn’t cliche. ‘Lone hill’ means it’s the only hill around….

    Again, I see where he’s coming from, but the rewrite is too obvious in parts and too obscure in others. Now what I would like to see is Schneider resurrect one of Keat’s immature, over the top, hopelessly cliche early poems.

  • Keith

    I figured on your part, but I’m wondering who are all of these OTHER people reading the comments section of a two-year-old review. Usually this sort of thing happens when somebody posts something old to a message board or the like.

  • will

    @Dan–I appreciate the in-depth response; there’s still some things I don’t see eye to eye on, but this is probably due more to my inability & imprecision in my communication of my ideas (I don’t have a critical language). You are right about my limitations as an artist and a critic (why I said I wasn’t a critical; more accurately I don’t have a developed critical facility).
    1.) I’m passionate about what I like.
    2.) And I like things about which I’m passionate.

    Anyway, I’ll be in contact via your site. I actually have some work I’d like to get your opinion on if you have time.

    @Keith–I just stumbled on this site, then stumbled on the review; and there were aspects about the review I disagreed with, and the reviewer that I was curious about. It was more a venting/cathartic gesture on my are and I was pleasantly suprised to get a response, and other people were unpleasantly affected by the nature of the replies.

  • Keith

    And finally, though I’ve not read the novel in question, Dan states EXACTLY how he thinks a first-person narration would have helped the novel in the review by saying that it would have served to make at least one of the characters, and perhaps even both, sympathetic, where from the perspective of an omniscient narrator they come across as quite unlikable. To call Dan a pompous ass (I know that wasn’t will specifically, but I intend this comment to generalize outward toward the entire block of responders) and say that he’s not addressing your points when several of your answers are located in the original review comes across as rather disingenuous and seems to me to provide proof of Dan’s original claim that you merely like the novel but don’t have the objective frame of reference to prove that said enjoyment is anything more than a subjective preference.

  • Keith

    And for the record, I am a member of the Cosmoetica e-list and do agree with Dan on most of his points. I’ve read many of his This Old Poem entries, and I’ve never seen a single poem that he didn’t improve or a single poem where he just foisted his own writing style/voice onto a pre-existing poem. Indeed, there are many instances where he says that he could probably, himself, improve a poem further but chooses not to for fear that the voice of the original poet will be lost. Indeed, This Old Poem is, more than its stated goal of rehabilitating known poems, an excellent look into the revision process, which most professors I’ve ever had have been insanely vague about. The things that he calls out as cliches are, indeed, not the sort of cliches that are being used by the artist to express a certain idea or even to create an aesthetic atmosphere but cliches of the lazy sort: cliches that are there just to be cliches, to give readers something that they emotionally “like” but which show little creativity or craft on the part of the artist. This is an especially egregious thing because, as I once saw Dan’s wife point out in an e-mail, twisting a phrase to make it un-cliche is not that hard! Literally, all Dan does most of the time is swap in one word for another, and pretty much every time it constitutes an improvement by giving the poem a more unique overall atmosphere, and given Dan’s own poetic skill, it usually ends up syncing with the rest of the poem in unexpected ways as well. Please, point out the stilted language in his Keats TOP; I’d like to know what constitutes stilted for you in order to better answer your argument.

  • Keith

    Out of curiosity, why the sudden outburst of interest in this review, two years after it was posted? Was it posted for discussion on a message board or mailing list somewhere? Usually comments on Dan’s reviews start to pile up quite quickly and then taper off over time.

  • Will:

    1) the modesty comment was re: your opinion of my stating facts. As Reggie Jackson once said: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. I can. If I state I am great at poetry, writing, criticism, etc., it’s because to not state that is pointless. I only state that when called for. To not do so is to be deceitful, and lying is a critical kill. 2) I missed nothing–you typed ‘Show, don’t tell, remember?’ My response was: ‘1)You promote an idea based upon 1) a personal preference and idea of ‘modesty’ and 2) quote a pointless and long debunked cliche- read Wallace Stevens if you need proof.’ In short, if you are going to try and school someone, you had not fall back upon cliches, and ones that have little bearing on reality. If one can tell, do so and do it well. This notion of showing over telling is MFA idiocy.

    2) You wholly avoided my nailing you on the intentional fallacy. yes, readers will subjectively imbue, but the art is objective. Like any other endeavor humans do art has objective measures. As example, having read Yates’ major works, incl. his short stories, I can say fully that the man was unfortunately limited by a misanthropic tendency that was in no way attuned to anything humorous, and this book is as humorless as they come. If you want satire, watch Married w Children. I’ve watched soap operas for 30 years and pro wrestling for 40. That’s melodrama and so is this book. It drips with phony situations and reactions. Again, you may LIKE that, but it’s not great fiction. But when you try to rationalize your LIKES in objective terms, prepare to be hammered.

    3)Criticism is ALWAYS about what is good or bad or better and worst. It is always about ranking this art over that or this trope over that and WHY! Again, that you do not see this shows how utterly criticism has failed in the last few decades. Objectively speaking, as example, Donald Hall is a BAD poet, and Whitman FAR superior. This is objectively true by any measure of poetic quality. You cannot reasonably argue this. You CAN reasonably argue Keats is better than Whit or Maya Angelou is worse than Hall, but there ARE objective measures. That you lack the facility to define and employ these is YOUR limitation, and by claiming elsewise you are again employing a logical fallacy- the fallacy of self-limits. Because I CANNOT benchpress 500 lbs does not mean it cannot be done. As for the Keats TOP, it is objectively better, as explained, but AESTHETICS have nothing to do with it. Aesthetics are subjective, not objective.

    “Cliches and stereotypes aren’t anathema to creativity or originality; they are tools. People think, communicate, etc. in terms of cliches and stereotypes; artists use these to manipulate the reader (see: Conrad’s ‘Children of the Sea’) to make a point, an argument, etc. And eliminating cliches from a poem, in favor of stilted, awkward language, does not improve its ‘greatness’. Also, you edit Yates entirely in terms of your own aesthetic until it read JUST like Raymond Carver! Not everyone writes like that, nor should they. THAT, is my problem. And you edit poets so they read JUST like you! That’s not criticism, that’s self promotion.”

    People do think in cliches and cliches can be used creatively to subvert things, but then they …. are NOT cliches any longer. A cliche is a familiar phrase or idea in a familiar setting. Broken heart is a cliche, but if used in a poem on someone literally pierced by a shard from an IED, as example, it can be rehabilitated. And I NEVER make poems like my own writing- that you cannot see that says much. Note how my TOPs almost NEVER add any words or things, I just improve by cutting and editing.

    Again, right here, you show you cannot even clearly read poetry w/o inserting YOUR own biases!

    Seriously, look at the TOPS- they are CUTS. There is no addition of word choices nor tropes I’d use, and each poem is edited in different ways to make each poem better in the most efficient manner. Also, they are lace with great humor.

    So, you have failed as a critics AND a reader.

    4) Yet your very posts show you trying to be a critic. It is disingenuopus to now back off. Do you NOT see how this is typical trolling and Internet sciolism? And I am giving you the benefit of the doubt, Will, because, underneath that unlearned arrogance I sense an actually good potential mind.

    And I have SPECIFICALLY addressed each and every point in your posts. You simply do not like that I have debunked them. Ok, great. So?

    As for the future. Quality wins in the end. Always has, always will, because greatness always acquires admirers through each generation. Bad stuff is replaced by each succeeding generation’s bad stuff. Dave Eggers is one in a long line of Eggersian writers. He is utterly generic, as is Oates.

    However, if you really do want to learn about art, forget this online banter and contact me at my site. With time and patience there’s hope yet.

  • will


    1.) A: I have no preference for modesty. It’s usually either arrogance backed by self assurance or nothing backed by nothing. I am just going by some however many millennias’ worth of rules on human interaction (I’ll get to this later; you’ll be glad to know I’ve read up on some of your ideas and dialogue). But if criticism is to be an objective pursuit, and I don’t claim to be either, then the critic as an artist should more or less be absent from the critique; his ideals and biases can remain, but of course your own art will be more in line with the ideas and biases–you created it.
    B: Sorry you missed the irony. You rip Yates for including things that the intelligent reader should already know (Frank’s intent, his body language, etc.) and then you go on to beat us over the head with what should be evident on your text (your critical acuity). You do the very thing you chide Yates for. For the record, I respect your critical opinion (I wouldn’t be having this argument otherwise), but you don’t present it in a way that will ever lend you credibility.

    2.) My assertion has everything to do with the text, and my reading of it. The two, in my view, are inseparable; no two minds get the same thing out of a given work, based on what they’ve read before (art is a continuum). However, art must also stand alone, I agree. An understanding of one text shouldn’t be based entirely on the understanding of another text. And I agree that bad art can result from good intent, but good art cannot result from no intent. And the reader must take the intent into account when deciding the merits of a piece, i.e. if you tried to read Candide or Catch 22 with the idea you were reading historical realism you could argue they failed on that basis.

    3.) Agreed. Good critics. But they shouldn’t assert their artistic superiority. Then it becomes a matter, of Well, if I had written that…. That you don’t get this shows how unreliable your criticism is. Your improvements aren’t definitive, you are not THE definitive critic (though I give you a nod over what you read in the NY Times), RE: ‘This Old Poem/Keats’, where you make unnecessary alterations (to a non-final draft, no less), and judge it higher based on YOUR artistic aesthetics. Cliches and stereotypes aren’t anathema to creativity or originality; they are tools. People think, communicate, etc. in terms of cliches and stereotypes; artists use these to manipulate the reader (see: Conrad’s ‘Children of the Sea’) to make a point, an argument, etc. And eliminating cliches from a poem, in favor of stilted, awkward language, does not improve its ‘greatness’. Also, you edit Yates entirely in terms of your own aesthetic until it read JUST like Raymond Carver! Not everyone writes like that, nor should they. THAT, is my problem. And you edit poets so they read JUST like you! That’s not criticism, that’s self promotion.

    And you neatly define your own failings as a critic because you are unable to separate you ego from your appraisal of other writers.

    4.) You’re right. I’m no critic. Nor do I pretend to be. When I write, to paraphrase FSF, I start all inquiries with myself, and I start with an emotion. This may be lesser art, who am I to say? it probably is. But dismissing a character because ~there aren’t real women like that~, when there are woman like that is like dismissing a book on Astrophysics because you’ve never seen an equation like that.

    So, go ahead, claim you want “intellectual dialogue” and summarily dismiss any criticism on yourself without addressing a single damn point; just damn the points instead.

    Visionary or not, and I’m probably not, great or not, and I’m too young to know yet, canonization, for better or worse, depends as much on the artist as the art. It’s always been this way: if the artist doesn’t reach a public during their lifetime, the details of their lives have to fit an aesthetic ideal, and they have to have people championing them. I just think it’d be a shame if Internet Archeologists, 1,000 years from now, find your poems, a few of which I thought showed real poetic ability (unfortunately there’s the Joyce Carol Oates symptom where there’s so much output you can’t see the trees for the forest–I only use her in terms of output, not quality)– and dismiss them based on your own wild appraisal of yourself and your ability. Even if you are as good as you claim, people will see the claims and never see for themselves.

  • zingzing

    “You have neatly defined your own failings as a critic as you have allowed your own personal likes and tastes into your review.”


    “I’m the best. Period. Be it poetry, films, fiction, social issues. And I show it. As for pedantry- I’m 180 degrees from it as I innovate in both art and crit.”


  • Will:

    1)You promote an idea based upon 1) a personal preference and idea of ‘modesty’ and 2) quote a pointless and long debunked cliche- read Wallace Stevens if you need proof.

    2) this assertion has no basis in the text and is a typical MFA level misread, wherein blatant failures (i.e.- characterization, dialogue, narrative) are somehow seen as successes because….oh, the author ‘intended’ this to be bad/puerile/silly, boring, etc. This is known as the intentional fallacy.

    So far, 2 points and we have you boostering banalities and arguing w logical fallacies.

    3) Good critics do and should suggest improvements for their work. That most do NOT shows why criticism, as an art form, is in almost as bad a shape as fiction. That you do not even get this shows how laughable your whinges are. As for the character’s interior lives: they are stereotypes, and by definition they cannot be rich. And stereotypes necessitate melodrama. Keep swinging though.

    4) “Their fight is perfectly believable. It was like something out of my childhood between my parents. To say April Wheeler is a disbelievable portrait of the female psyche shows your own limitations in experience: I know several woman just like her, hard but emotionally vulnerable, alternatingly emasculating and commiserating.”

    You have neatly defined your own failings as a critic as you have allowed your own personal likes and tastes into your review. These are your limitations; and as for your childhood woes. I don’t care of them. They have no bearing on the book, and if its flaws help you deal with your psychic trauma; great. For those of us more mature; it does little.

    As for criticism; get ready to shudder….I’m the best. Period. Be it poetry, films, fiction, social issues. And I show it. As for pedantry- I’m 180 degrees from it as I innovate in both art and crit. Pedants do not do this; next stop, Webster’s for you.

    Keep reading.

  • will

    Correction: another Amazon reviewer, with the same first name, dismissed FSF’s lyricism. My apologies. I stand by everything else.

  • will

    There are several things that discredit your review (and I mention these merely in the spirit of critique, unless this is intended as a satire of pedantry).

    1. Asserting your own “critical acuity” and promoting your writing ability is the single most discrediting thing you could possibly do one a review. And, ironically, extraneous, the type of detail you chide Yates for including, because:
    1.) If you are a good writer, it will show up in your body of critique (if not your publishing credits….); and:
    2.) An intelligent reader will be able to decide for themselves, upon reading the review, whether you are indeed critically astute. Show, don’t tell, remember?

    2.) Misunderstanding of theme: the work is meant to be read as a satire, of the people with the: “The suburbs are hell” attitude. He’s positing that the American Dream (hence ‘Revolutionary Road’) has led mediocre people (Frank and April Wheeler) to expect more from life than their mediocrity allows them to achieve. They are actors, poseurs, self-absorbed, hence Yates obsession with their histrionic thoughts and gestures. See: James Joyce, A Portrait of an Artist’s obsessions with Stephen Dedalus’s obsessions about himself. The characters are satirical cutouts, embodying large swaths of society a la Candide. April Wheeler, the Madame Bovary-esque (box with the horse, anyone?), a product of the lavish 20’s–in fact she could be seen as The Blessed Precious from the Great Gatsby. Frank Wheeler, the self-absorbed, entitled pseudo-intellectual. Shep is an entirely comical character, the rich boy trying to be the rough neck, only to realize he is the rich boy. Maureen Grube, the “sexually liberated” woman who is anything but. It goes on and on. Every character is inherently comical (see Jay Gatsby), because all of them are deluding themselves, but Yates, skillfully, cuts away the masks to show their vulnerability. Now it’s subtle, and you might miss it, because he SHOWS it.

    3.) Making your own textual revisions: bit presumptuous? Sorry, but not everyone can or should write like Raymond Carver. I’m sure you’d have a time with Dickens, or Thackeray, or Dostoevsky, or Joyce, who all include far more DETAIL. You must remember, minimalism is a fairly modern invention. Also, exactly how would having a First Person Narrator help the story? The book is about the interior lives of these characters. Then it really would be melodrama, instead of the rich, detached humor of the Gods.

    4.) Failure to view novel outside of own frame of reference: Yates has his faults as a novelist, of course; this is the only book by his I think is worth a damn and I think it’s one of the best books from the 20th century; his rest are uneven at best. But to say that you can’t empathize or relate with his characters because of the early introduction of the fight is absurd. There is so much rich, subtle characterization, shown, not told, in the first 20 or so pages leading up to the fight–Frank’s whole life is sketched to show his misguided view of self; April is shown at her most vulnerable. Their fight is perfectly believable. It was like something out of my childhood between my parents. To say April Wheeler is a disbelievable portrait of the female psyche shows your own limitations in experience: I know several woman just like her, hard but emotionally vulnerable, alternatingly emasculating and commiserating. Richard Yates goes to great pains to paint her portrait, especially through her dialogue and the beautiful flashback scene. I’d be very, very interested to see your portrayal of the female psyche, or your writing for that matter.

    OK, that was probably much more than this review warranted. I’ve read a lot of your reviews on Amazon (you were spot on with his short stories), and I still am a little personally hurt that you dismiss Fitzgerald’s impeccable lyricism as “gossamer”, so if there’s any implicit bitterness it probably stems from that. Anyway, I think you are perceptive and erudite and a much better reviewer than most of the internet variety because you don’t seem to get swept in the hype; but some of the pedantry and egotism really makes the good points hard to swallow. And I just don’t think you did justice to this book.