The guy could write. The story of Revolutionary Road author Richard Yates, told in excruciating detail in Blake Bailey’s 2003 A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, moves me, partly because he got so little encouragement, yet went back to writing every morning, hung over or not. And he insisted on drinking and smoking himself to death. But he knew he was a good writer, and that sustained him. Here’s my Variety column.
Yates strikes a chord with me because my father sat at the dining room table every night at his Royal typewriter, a glass of cheap sherry at his elbow and a Kool wasting away in the ashtray. Yates was what he aspired to be. How many writers, inspired by the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Salinger, pecked away at the great American novel? And never succeeded? (My father’s debut novel, Halfway Down the Stairs, was launched to good reviews in 1957. He never got another one published.)
Karina Longworth gets me slightly wrong on the movie adaptation of Revolutionary Road. I don’t think any producer from Hollywood or elsewhere could adapt this book for the movies without warming it up. You have to give the audience some reason to hang in there. Much as I admire the book, Yates is tough and brutal. Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe, Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio kept the story grim and honest while figuring out a way to cut through the darkness.
Here’s James Wood’s appreciation of Yates and Revolutionary Road in The New Yorker.
And Tim Dumas in Westport Magazine.
[Illustration courtesy The New Yorker]
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]