As a fan of the short-story, one thing I find absolutely paramount is the importance of character's being set up and closely observed in as little time as possible, sometimes it's difficult to be totally engaged in a brief story if the people within don't grasp your attention from the off. As American writers go, both John Cheever and Raymond Carver wrote the short-story to almost perfection, so to did Richard Yates. The thing with Yates though, was his skill at writing realism, to about as real as real is going to get, concerning the ordinary, and everyday lives of mid-20th century Americans. Sometimes painful, ugly and bleak, other times, tender and loving, but still with an air of anxiety. The seven stories featured in 'Liars in Love' I would say, are not only some of his best stories, they are also some of his most optimistic. Having said that, there are failed marriages, dysfunctional households and the subject matter may appear grim at times, but it's more along the lines of dark humour, that wanting to slit your wrists. The seven intimate stories take place in either New York, London or Los Angeles, but all still share the same bed though, with some tucked-up beautiful writing.
The first story - 'Oh Joseph, I'am so tired' is probably the most autobiographical, and based on Yates's own troubled childhood, which is seen from the perspective of two children growing up in a Greenwich Village apartment block with their divorced mother who likes a drink and is working on a model of President-elect Roosevelt's head. The children get visits from their father and have home tutorials with someone called Bart, until the mother flips out after harsh words were supposedly said about her. Young Susan Andrews comes next in 'A Natural Girl', who ends up falling in love with a Lecturer whilst living on campus at a liberal Art's college in Wisconsin, to the displeasure of her father, who she despises anyway. Things go according to plan, until they don't.
Followed by 'Trying out for the Race' which sees two mothers, Lucy and Elizabeth, both with kids, share a house near a highway outside of New York, everyone gets on fine to begin with, before the cracks start to appear. The next two stories take place in London 'Liars in Love' features an American who falls for a Scottish prostitute (my favourite), the other 'A Compassionate Leave' sees a young soldier in WW2 return to his mother in England, but not before touring around Paris trying to get his leg over first. 'Regards at Home' sees two male office workers become sort of friends, before one heads off abroad. Lastly finishing off in Hollywood with 'Saying Goodbye to Sally'. Jack Fields, a failed writer who is away from his wife in LA, falls for the wrong woman, before ending up in a drunken stupor.
Rest assured, this is Yates writing with old painful memories still at heart, he probably sat there with dry tears and a bottle of whisky close at hand whilst writing these, but you wouldn't think so.
The style and descriptive details are so confident and assured, the narratives were crisp, clear and easy to read, whilst each of the main characters were so brilliantly brought to life. As for the use of dialogue, wow. This was simply first-rate storytelling by one of the finest American writers of the 20th century. Reply