Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cold Spring Harbor; Richard Yates

Title: Cold Spring Harbor
Author: Richard Yates
Publication Year: (orig-1986) (this ed. 2008)
Publisher: Delta/Random House
Edition: Trade Softcover
Source: personal copy
Location: New York
Date Completed: 10/10/2011 
Rating: 4.5/5
Recommend: yes 

I'm starting to feel a little sad because before long, I'll have read all of Richard Yate's books.  A wonderful author who really only became recognized after his death. Fans love his marvelous portrayal of the all American family in the 1940-50s America, exposing their warts and all. With Yates, the reader learns quickly that oftentimes, life and relationships just plain suck, and some people just seem to create their own misery.  Cold Spring Harbor, is such a story. It's about unhappy people who make bad decisions to perpetuate their misery. It's was a terrific reading experience.

The novel takes place in a Long Island, New York town just before WWII.  The father figure, Charles Shepard, is a retired WWI Army officer who never fulfilled his military dreams. Three days before the war ended he began to lose his eye site.  He marries a pretty girl named Grace, retires on a small Army pension, and buys a small house in Cold Spring Harbor, but their life is anything but happy.

Grace, is hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, acts like an invalid, and before long becomes an alcoholic.  Her husband Charles does all the housework, the shopping and even fixes drinks for the two of them every evening. Their handsome son Evan's life is just as dysfunctional. He is obsessed with cars, gets in trouble, has fits of anger and no ambition. When Evan's first marriage ends quickly, the twenty-three year-old, moves back home with his parents. One day Charles decides to discuss the situation with his son, as Evan drives him to his eye appointment in Manhattan. When their car brakes down in Greenwich Village, they need to use a telephone and they end up at the pitiful home of Gloria Drake and her adult children Rachel and Phil.

"She may not have been more than fifty, but there wasn't much left of whatever she had in the way of looks.  Her hair was a blend of faded yellow and light gray, as if dyed by many years of drifting cigarette smoke, and although you could say she kept her figure, it was such a frail, slack little figure that you couldn't picture it doing anything but sitting right here, on this coffee-stained sofa.  Her very way of sitting suggested an anxious need to be heard and understood, and to be liked if possible: hunched forward with her forearms on her knees and her clasped hands writhing to the rhythms of her own talk."

Without giving out away too much of this brief (182 page) novel, I'll just say that things go from bad to worse for Evan, and really for both families for that matter. Yates demonstrates with unflinching honesty what can happen when people make bad choices in life. We see what can happen when unrealistic dreams go unfulfilled. Once again Yates has created sympathetic characters, brought together by chance and desperation, characters that you will not easily forget.

The character of Gloria Drake is said to be based on that of Ruth Yate's, mother of the author who had already passed away at the time this novel was written.  From what I've read about Yates, most of his novels are based at least in part on real life situations.

This novel is beautifully written and did not disappoint. I would highly recommend it to everyone.

24 comments:

  1. You really have made me want to read a Richard Yates book. I love the sound of them. The realistic portrayal of American life during that time period.

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  2. I'm really glad you enjoyed this - I loved it!

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  3. I must say you've turned me on to Richard Yates once again. I really liked Revolutionary Road (although I had a problem accepting the ending!) I love his writing and his warts-and-all characters.

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  4. I need to read more Yates, and I am envious that you have read so many of his books! This one sounds really good. I love that he is not afraid to examine the slices of life that people find difficult and straining. Great review today!

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  5. I still haven't read any Yates, but own aout 3 of his books now. I hadn't heard of this one, but it is good to know that you enjoyed it so much. I must get around to reading one.

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  6. I need to read more Yates, someday... I have read one book and loved the detail/his writing.

    Glad you enjoyed this one.

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  7. I don't want to 'run out of' Richard Yates novels either! Great review of Cold Spring Harbor.... don't forget about the Yates bio by Blake Bailey. It will probably be my favorite nonfiction of the year.

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  8. Sounds good, evev with unhappy people!

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  9. I have never read Yates before. I should remedy that at some point.

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  10. I had only read Revolutionary Road when I started seeing your reviews of other Yates books...and I've had to grab each one. This one is no exception. I must read it!

    I am a big fan of his work, and I like the way he portrays families, "warts and all."

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book.

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  11. I just discovered Richard Yates earlier this year and totally understand what you mean about reaching the end of his books. I still have a way but I'm already dreading it.

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  12. Thanks to you I've had Yates on my list for a while but have yet to make time for his books.

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  13. I haven't read Yates yet, but I have a couple of his books noted on Goodreads.

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  14. I have yet to try his work, but it sounds like I need to remedy that.

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  15. I admit, I haven't read anything by Yates yet but I fully intend to!

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  16. Sometimes reading about other peoples mistakes and problems, makes my own seem much smaller.
    I shall have to look for him in the library.
    Kat

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  17. I will have to buy this one too!! OMG...I want to read this author so bad. Loved your review of this one.

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  18. I'd love to read a Richard Yates book. I'm adding it to my list. Thank you for stopping by when I mentioned my father-in-law's surgery. Sure appreciated your sweet comments.

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  19. I too love books set during this time period so maybe since this is a short one I could dip my toes into this authors body of work by trying this book!

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  20. You have really made me want to read this -- great review!

    I loved the movie Revolutionary Road and have meant to pick up one of his books since seeing it...this one sounds perfect.

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  21. I have never read a Yates book. I know, shame on me. This one though sounds like the one to start with as it sounds really interesting to me.

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  22. I know what you mean when you get to the end of a beloved author's books … especially when no more are coming. I'm about to embark on his books … thanks to you!

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  23. I've never read any of his work before, but you are making me want to. I'm just wondering which one to start with.

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  24. "It's about unhappy people who make bad decisions to perpetuate their misery. It's was a terrific reading experience."

    i laughed outloud when I read these two lines! I do agree though that dysfunctional people in bad situations (in the right hands) are great reads!

    I will have to try Yates out as he sounds like my kind of writer!

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