Liars in Love, the second short story collection by Richard Yates, contains seven short stories that are definitely worth reading, but only after you read his earlier collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, which I recently reviewed. Yates is often mentioned as an influence on Raymond Carver, and there are similarities between how the early stories of both are minimalist in nature. The seven stories in Liars in Love are longer in form, they breathe a bit more than his earlier stories. There are several touching moments laced throughout. Yates has the ability to take the reader's breath away. Consider the first sentence of the story, A Natural Girl. In the spring of her Sophomore year when she was twenty, Susan Andrews told her father very calmly that she didn't love him anymore.
Simply startling. The story is heartbreaking all the way through.
Regards at Home is probably my favorite short story in this collection, mainly because it provides an interesting comparison and contrast to the novel Revolutionary Road, with the added bonus of a rather grumpy mother thrown into the mix. Here's how the narrator, a young man named Bill Grove, describes watching his mother having her teeth extracted.
It made my toes clench and my scalp prickle: it was a terrible but oddly satisfying thing to watch.
A page later, when his then girlfriend calls his mother an "art bum," he defends her, and he spends the story trying to keep the two women away from each other. He eventually marries this girlfriend, and unfulfilled at his job, he daydreams about moving to Paris, but his wife becomes pregnant. All the while, he and his wife become friends with a co-worker named Dan Rosenthal. Dan remains stuck caring for his own mother and siblings after the death of his father and develops a crush on Bill's wife.
In the final scenes, Bill, his wife and child are on the cusp of realizing his dream; they are boarding an ocean liner to move to Paris. Dan hugs Bill's wife tightly as he says goodbye, an awkward moment. Dan then leans into Bill's ear closely and says, "Don't piss it all away." In the final lines of the story, Bill is overwhelmed with gratitude for his life, a moment made even more remarkable when contrasted to Revolutionary Road.
Saying Goodbye to Sally is a fascinating story about a divorced writer named Jack who is given the chance to draft a screenplay in Los Angeles. After moving to LA temporarily, he meets a charming woman and has a fling that they both know won't last more than the few months he is in town. Yates writes movingly about their first weekend together and captures the exhilaration of new love. Sally lives with a wealthy friend in a mansion, where Jack gets sucked into alcohol fueled parties with some crazy characters, including an artist who creates black velvet paintings. Jack also has an obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the themes (and the mansion) recall Fitzgerald's writings from earlier in the century. It's a beautiful story about the transient nature of romance, and well worth your time.
My summer of Yates will undoubtedly continue, though I need to continually weave in some other titles from my TBR pile.