Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Of no world but his own

America has always abhorred failure, punishing its exponents in a variety of ways. For Yates's postwar generation of literary overachievers, the rewards were much greater than ever before and perhaps because of this, the cost of failure proved to be high. Yates belonged to no literary faction and he hated the world of reviewing and literary fashion. He declined to call himself a realist, suggesting that all novels came 'filled with techniques'. In the surviving, somehow inevitably poor recordings of Yates available on the internet, his booming, distracted voice tells us that he is merely following the example of the writers he loves - Scott Fitzgerald and Flaubert. 'The emotions of fiction are autobiographical,' he observes, 'but the facts never are.'

Yates's problem wasn't just blackness of vision, but persistently bad timing. His books appeared either passé when they dealt with the time in which he was growing up or dangerously at odds with prevailing wisdom. Criticising the shallowness of American corporate life was one thing, so long as it was done with appropriate sententiousness. To imply that, far from pursuing the approved dream, executives in corporations didn't really do much work, was something not even Jack Lemmon could have conveyed to the American public in Yates's heyday.

No comments: