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: 4.5/5Recommend: 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.