Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Short Story Wednesday, "The Best of Everything," Richard Yates


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. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 


George Kelley  

Matt Paust


Margot Kinberg said...

That's an interesting look at a marriage, Patti. And it also, I think, gives a picture of the times they're living in. That too (in my opinion) has to affect the couple's maturity, decision-making, and so on.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Meyerson said...

Glad you did this today. We agree on Yates - the two novels you mentioned in particular, plus the stories. I read the two collections, then the COLLECTED STORIES, which added others. I think I read 5 of his 7 novels. Very sad life.

One thing I just learned on Wikipedia: Elaine Benes on SEINFELD was "loosely based" on Yates's daughter, who was a girlfriend and then a friend of Larry David. The episode where Lawrence Tierney played Elaine's curmudgeonly writer father was based on Yates.

Todd Mason said...

I have to think that my folks weren't so much naive as cited, though somewhat, and certainly in feeling their age in 1963 (they were both already 27, my goodness!) and both suffering a bit of rebound (my mother had dumped her fiance after moving to Alaska to be with him; my father had had a short marriage to a woman from northern South America when he was in training in Oklahoma, but she wasn't going to move to Alaska with him and her son, so that ended that). Settling for You'll Do does seem to be a bit more common when the upbringing was prone to worse parents so Vastly improved on their models that it's kind of a wonder, as well as helping to explain their deficits (and in turn to help explain some of my own, aside from those I've added to my own menu).

I still need to dig out my Yates book I've meant to FFB for a decade. See you when you get back, or at least the posts!

Jeff Meyerson said...

Also read Blake Bailey's book on Yates.

Have a safe trip!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Me, too, Jeff and the one on Cheever.
These two seem to be having their first romance although it isn't very romantic.

Jeff Meyerson said...

As far AS SHORT STORIES GO, I'm currently reading a book you covered - WHO DO YOU LOVE by Jean Thompson. Also WEREWOLVES IN THEIR YOUTH by Michael Chabon.

Mathew Paust said...

My apologies, late again. Here's mine:

Rick Robinson said...

I never got one up. Next week...

Kevin R. Tipple said...

As always, thank you for including my effort.

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Kevin R. Tipple said...

You have been found by one of the more prolific spammers, Patti. You better turn on comment moderation. The quack posting will trigger that person to come back and hammer multiple posts with crap comments and trigger others to come calling.

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