“..leaving the page of the book carelessly open” – Anne Sexton

Archive for the ‘My Bookshelf’ Category

A Tragic Honesty

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on November 8, 2009

yates olderI just finished reading A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Baily (who has also recently written a bio of John Cheever).  Lacking enough time to pleasure read, I had to renew it from the library twice so for about three months I carried this hefty 650 + page book to and from work, hauling it out to read on transit. In the age of e-readers and soft covers, let me tell you, a hard back, very thick book elicits stares. Not that I noticed them really, Mr. Yates‘ life was so engrossing that a couple of times I almost missed my subway/bus stops.

As a self-confessed literary snob, and reader of what I consider fine literature, I’m feeling a bit sheepish that I only discovered Yates last year, because of the pending film treatment of Revolutionary Road. He was writing in my adult lifetime therefore I could have bought his books and helped, at least in a small way, to contribute to his livelihood. That’s probably a ridiculous thought but it does occur to me that a man who is more well-known posthumously as one of the greatest contemporary American writers could have used at least one more reader while he was alive.

Yates did possess a tragic honesty, in his writing and in his life. He lived in ways people couldn’t understand, perhaps not even himself. He wrote about things people didn’t necessarily want to see in the world and recognize in themselves. It occurred to me while reading about his efforts to get those wonderfully crafted stories published in various magazines (esp. his heartbreak over the elusive New Yorker), that the era of reaching career pinnacles is somewhat behind us. The struggle for an agent, publisher, good review, film contract – these are dying goals in an age when you can publish your own blog, thoughts in 140 characters, and books to sell on consignment in stores. Hell, we might not be needing bookstore soon. So reading this biography was in so many ways a look back into an increasing lost time of the great struggle for lasting art.

Yates was one of those creatives who really couldn’t fully see his own talent – all the while using it – and his yates youngstories were often rejected because his characters seemed “bleak,” the atmosphere “dismal.” In actual fact, he was writing about human foibles and realities that are largely inarticulated, even still. Some criticized the fact that he mined the same field – that of his chaotic childhood, father-less (for all intents and purposes) and mother-ful (always there but terrifically selfish). I just think autobiography is  what most artists circle back to. His writing was so much more than a mere account of wrongs done to him. He nailed human intention vs. behaviour – for better or worse. I can’t think of anyone I’ve read who does it better.

Now I’m back to reading (in some cases re-reading) his novels and stories, which are all the richer by knowing what influenced and affected him. Like many artists, he was his own worst enemy, procrastinating writing by poor living habits, and sadly because of  his post-war ill health, made worse by his  alcoholism. Although I have yet to write my first novel, and have only published one short story, I can certainly relate to the difficulty of having to hold down a responsible “day job”  that leaves no free time, physically or mentally, for writing. I fully relate to his frustration with the “PR dodge” an anathema to any kind of creative writing. In true form, he came up with the perfect phrase to encapsulate the rally of many writers between paying the rent and contributing artistically.

Obviously anyone who admires the work of this master should read this book. After I exhaust the far two few books in Yates’ library I plan to go back to the book and author that drove his writing ambition, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby Thought I’ve read it numerous times, this time around I want to try to see it through the keen and sensitive writerly eyes of Richard Yates.


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Frank McCourt

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on August 3, 2009

mccourt.184.3.650It was very sad to hear that Irish/American teacher/writer, Frank McCourt had died. It got me thinking about the two times I’ve been lucky enough to meet him.

Read about it here.

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February, Lisa Moore

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on June 21, 2009

feb lisa moore

Here’s my review in the Ottawa Citizen of Lisa Moore’s new book, February. Highly recommended.

Loss of a Family Man

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February by Lisa Moore, reimagines the Ocean Ranger disaster

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on May 31, 2009

In February of 1982 the Ocean Ranger, a large “unsinkable” oil rig sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Newfoundland. All 84 crew members (men) working aboard were killed, 67 were Canadian, 59 were from Newfoundland.  At the time, it was the largest offshore drilling accident in Canadian history and devastating to the families of the drowned men.

I wish I could say I remembered this, but I don’t. I have, however, recently watched news reports on the tragedy and it’s scope is pretty amazing, the confusion around the causes pretty evident. You see all the hallmarks of modern PR there, spin, denial, deflection. In the end, several new safety and training procedures were adopted around, what was then, fairly new oil drilling technology. A little too late for the loved ones of the lost.

The sinking of the Ocean Ranger lives on in the hearts, minds and memories of Newfoundlanders. An internet search brings up literature, music and films that document the event and its after effects.

feb lisa mooreIn her new book, February (Anansi, June 2009), Lisa Moore has imagined life after this tragedy for a young family. It’s a powerful novel full of insight into how life goes on, in spite of us, even if it leaves broken slivers of hearts in its wake.

It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that one result of losing a brother, husband, father or son to the sea would be loneliness. Loneliness is hard to write about without becoming maudlin, or cliche. Lisa Moore does not have that problem. She seems to understand this very human facility. It’s amazing just how well she can put words to an extremely indescribable emotion.

Ms. Moore is a new author to me. Though she’s been twice nominated for the Giller Prize, I have not read any of her previous books. I like knowing I can go back to her list, learn more about her craft and lose myself in her stories.

Of course, I recommend this book. You’ll be surprised how it makes you feel.

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The Factory Voice

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on May 13, 2009

51mLDD5XZ5L._SS500_The Factory Voice is the debut novel from Canadian poet Jeanette Lynes. It’s set in an airplane factory in Fort William, ON  (now Thunder Bay) during the war, and revolves around the lives of four women workers. I highly recommend reading it. It’s a delightful book.

Here’s my Globe review:

These Women Take Flight

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Yates’ Revolutionary Road

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 30, 2009

revolutionaryroad1The film rights to Revolutionary Road were first sold in 1967. If only a film had been made back then…

I fully intended to write my thoughts and impressions of Richard Yates’ unforgettable novel, Revolutionary Road the minute I closed its final page. Unfortunately the film had been taunting me for too long and I gave in and watched it the very next day. I wish I hadn’t.

Richard Yates, tortured genius that he seems to have been, created what I think is a perfectly written and realized piece of literature in Revolutionary Road. Not a word, sentence, paragraph, character sketch, plot or punctuation point is amiss in his story about the tantalizing and disappointing effect of the American Dream on a young New York couple in the mid-’50s. “Is that all there is?” is still a fairly common question even in the modern world, where people rush to create “the good life” while abandoning their true destinies and then wonder what they missed.

Reams have already been written on the book and its place in the American literary canon. Here are two great articles. The first by American writer Richard Ford, adapted from his introduction to the current  edition of Revolutionary Road. And the second a look at Yates’ work by novelist Stewart O’Nan.

Essay; American Beauty (Circa 1955), The New York Times, 2000, Richard Ford

The Lost World of Richard Yates, Boston Review, 1999, Stewart O’Nan

yates1Now, I’m a huge fan of Mad Men, the AMC television show that is a nostagic and ironic look at the ’50s, which seems to highlight the politically incorrect habits of a few generations ago; the smoking, drinking, the blatant racism, the lunchtime affairs, and the accepted idea that a man’s wife is his property to do with as he pleases, including slapping her around, consultations with her psychiatrist as though she was his child, etc. Some people I know refuse to watch because they just don’t want to remember, and help glorify, a time when people (esp. men I guess) behaved badly. My parents were a young married couple in the ’50s and I think one reason I like the show is because it sheds a  new light on some of their marital issues, on my mom’s love of martini’s and Frank  Sinatra, and also – and this is a big one folks – I like remembering a time when it was customary for men to wear suits and ties and women dresses. A time when people were still courteous and chivalrous (putting aside what some are calling misogyny, which was really just the way it was then, good or bad). Sure the exterior courtesy hid a lot of crudeness and also the need to remain stoic at all times wasn’t altogether healthy. But contrasted with today’s ultra-casualness and too-much-public-information, it sometimes feels like a better place. Men were men, women were women.

Revolutionary Road, written in the early sixties, so was of that time. While there’s an element of disdain for the ’50s, for the smothering of individuals by enslaving them to social dictates, it isn’t looking back from too far off. Making a current film of an age gone by with the actors they chose meant performances that merely mocked the times rather than portrayed them. It was painful to watch. The beauty, the absolute treasure of Yates’ writing is how he expertly portrays the wide divide between how we imagine a conversation playing out and how it actually does. His detail of character and place is unparalleled. All the yelling Winslet and DiCaprio do, combined with the lengthy camera shots portraying pained looks, really doesn’t translate. If made at all, the film should have gone for actors with wider ranges. vintage-yates

I will definitely be re-reading the book in an effort to rid my mind of the Titanic couple (incidentally, I might be the only person on earth who hasn’t seen that film!). For now though, I’ve moved on to Yates’ excellent short stories. Now I know I’m hardly the first to discover the mastery of Richard Yates. My only question is, why did it take me so long!?

*(I found these vintage book covers on various sites around the Internet. Since Revolutionary Road is a book that I want to occupy a forever-place on my bookshelf, I might have to dig to find an earlier cover and pass my current film cover on to a willing recipient!)

Posted in adaptations, My Bookshelf | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Flying Troutman long listed for Orange Prize

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 17, 2009

flying-troutmansMiriam Toews’ lively and excellent novel, The Flying Troutmans, published by Knopf Canada, is the only Canadian work on the Orange Prize long list, announced today. Winner of last year’s Roger’s Writers Trust Fiction Prize, this was one of my favourite reads of last year. One of those books you fly through because it’s so much fun to read, and when the last page is done, you just want to start at the beginning again.

The Orange Prize is open to books written in English and published in England. The short list will be announced April 21st and the award given out on June 3rd.

Congrats and good luck Miriam!

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