Richard Yates wrote two of my favorite novels, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and THE EASTER PARADE, but he also wrote this fabulous collection of ten short stories (among others). Written in the fifties "The Best of Everything" almost seems like a story written earlier. Were people in their twenties this naive? This innocent? I have to assume some were.
It is the story of a couple on the day before their marriage is to take place in Atlantic City. The point of view switches between the two of them and you can't help but notice how drastically different they are from each other once you are in their heads. You also realize they don't know each other at all and that their marriage will probably fail quickly.
The woman is a typical middle class young woman working as a secretary. She speaks well and is respected in her office. The man is a step or two down the socioeconomic ladder and has a poor grasp of English, which the woman's roommate makes her constantly aware of, calling he and his friends, "Ratty little clerks."
But for whatever reason, Grace goes forward with the marriage plans although we sense her worry. Her roommate, feeling badly about the things she has said about Eddie, leaves her alone the night before the wedding and Grace plans an early consummation, feeling this will set things right.
But Eddie has been the man of the hour with his friends at a bachelor party and he is stunned by their good will. You get the feeling he has never been the center of attention before this night. He hurries to Grace's apartment to tell her he is going back to the party and her attempt to seduce him goes to naught.
We understand now that Eddie will always choose his friends over his wife and that will destroy their marriage quickly. She goes so far to put his hand on her naked breast. Nothing.
There is a lot of discussion online about this story. One teacher said it was the cause of a female student in his class dumping her boyfriend. Yates' real gift here is capturing the mind and language of both characters so clearly and with sympathy. Eddie is not a bad man and Grace is not a snob, but they certainly don't belong together. They seem to have reached an age when they believe it is time to marry no matter to who.
Here is a nice piece by Stewart O'Nan pondering the fate of the writing of Richard Yates. He had an unhappy life and an undeserved disappearance from the shelves. His resurgence in the early nineties quickly died out. A real shame.
I will be back in three weeks with more short story reviews but don't let that stop you.