The Canal

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The Canal

Richard Yates 2001

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


"The Canal" is a short story by Richard Yates, an author many literary critics in the early 2000s consider one of the great fiction writers of the twentieth century, even though he was practically forgotten by the reading public at the time of his death in 1992. Yates's most famous work, his 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road, is an examination of the search for meaning in mid-1950s America. In "The Canal," Yates visits the same terrain, presenting a man who is trying to reconcile memories of World War II combat with the mundane reality of urban socializing, a problem many veterans faced when they returned home and entered the business world.

The story concerns two couples at a cocktail party. When the two husbands discover the fact that they both were present at a certain military action in 1945, one man wants to compare the details of their war zone experiences while the other man would prefer to forget them. For Tom Brace, the fight at the canal signifies his luck and courage in the face of danger; for Lew Miller, the same proof of his fumbling, incompetence, and humiliation. With characteristic precision of detail and the peripheral bafflement of the two wives who try in vain to comprehend war, Yates portrays a man who is doomed to be haunted by events that he hardly understood at the time.

This story was not published during Yates's lifetime but was included in The Collected Stories of Richard Yates (2001), a book that increased its author's reputation in the years since his death.

Author Biography

Richard Yates was born in Yonkers, New York, on February 3, 1926, to a middle-class family. His parents were divorced when he was two years old. Yates was raised by his mother, a sculptress, and by his older sister. He attended Avon Old Farms School as a teenager and left to serve in World War II immediately after graduation. After his discharge from the army, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent more than a year in a sanatorium run by the Veterans' Administration. He married his first wife, Sheila Bryant, in 1948, and they moved to France after his release from the hospital.

In 1953, Atlantic Monthly accepted one of his short stories, and Yates's writing career began. Yates returned to the United States and worked as a freelance writer of advertising copy while working on his novel Revolutionary Road. In the following years, he taught creative writing and wrote. Yet he was dragged down by depression and alcoholism, which ended his marriage in 1959.

Revolutionary Road was an instant success when it was published in 1961, and as of the early 2000s, it was considered one of the great American novels of the twentieth century. The celebrity that it brought to Yates led to his serving as a speechwriter for Robert Kennedy, who was then the U.S. attorney general. When Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963, Yates left government life: he went to Hollywood to write screenplays for a brief while then he became an instructor at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop. He remarried in 1968, to Martha Speer. After seven years, he left Iowa when he was denied tenure. He taught at several Midwestern universities before returning to New York City. After the dissolution of his second marriage in 1974, he moved to Boston, where he wrote four books between 1976 and 1986.

In 1991, after spending more time in Hollywood, Yates took a position at the University of Alabama. Though the position was temporary, he found, after a two-year stint, that he was too ill with emphysema to leave Tuscaloosa. He was working on a novel about his time as Kennedy's speech-writer when he died at the VA hospital in Birmingham on November 7, 1992, of complications arising from surgery on a hernia. Yates's short story, "The Canal," appeared in print for the first time in The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, which was published by Holt in 2001.

Plot Summary

"The Canal" starts at a cocktail party in 1952. Two couples, the Millers and the Braces, are in the middle of a long conversation that has already been going on for about an hour when the story begins. Lew Miller and Tom Brace work for the same advertising firm. As the story opens, Lew Miller tells Tom Brace the division that he was in during World War II, and Brace, who has been telling a war story about the advance across a canal in Europe in March of 1945, recalls the divisions involved and realizes that Miller's division was in the same action. With this link established between them, Brace starts a more personal conversation with Miller, while the wives, who do not understand the experience of being in war, stand aside and remark with wonder on the coincidence. Brace presses Miller for details about his experience of what he calls, almost casually, "the canal deal."

Unlike Brace, Miller does not look back upon his war experience with fascination or wonder. He has a difficult time remembering the details at all, having spent most of his time in the army in North Carolina, working in public relations. For most of the war, he had a desk job stateside; he only joined the infantry in 1944. In all, then, his army experience was easier, in general. Concerning the night at the canal, he recalls that his division was somewhat removed from direct action. He was one of a line of soldiers further upstream, where there was less enemy resistance, and their orders were to deliver spools of communications wire to the other side, while Brace's division faced head on central artillery fire.

Miller recalls the events of the night at the canal, although he does not speak about them because what he remembers does not make a good story or show him in a positive light, while Tom Brace's story spotlights Tom's heroic actions. While Miller's division was crossing the canal on a partly submerged footbridge, Brace's division crossed in boats that made them easy targets. While Miller climbed a wall and ran to his destination when he reached the other side, Brace still had to face gunfire until he was able to get near enough to the enemy to throw a grenade that killed the German artillery soldiers.

Mentally reviewing the events that he has mostly forgotten or suppressed for years, Miller thinks of his panic and humiliation as a minimally competent soldier. He recalls being berated for losing his raincoat by his commanding officer, a skinny nineteen-year-old boy named Kavic. Walking in a line along a road toward the canal and under fire, Miller recalls the difficulty of following Shane, the soldier in line ahead of him: when they were crawling to avoid gunfire, the only way Miller could keep track of the man ahead of him was by feeling for the bottom of his boot. This method failed him when, just as they stood to run, the agonized screams of a man who had been shot distracted him. When he turned back to the advancement, Miller realized he had lost track of the men in his division. He looked around for them, asking other soldiers, but no one could tell him where his men were, so he crossed the canal and climbed up the ladders along the retaining wall on the other side. Wandering around on the far bank, Miller ran into the assistant squad leader and was reunited with his division. He was ordered to report to Kavic, who reprimanded him for getting separated, calling him "more [g―d―] trouble than all the rest of the men in this squad put together." Miller does not relate this humiliation at the cocktail party, but he does tell what happened after that: having accomplished their mission of carrying the wire across the canal, his squad went to a safe house away from the action, where they slept in shifts for about twenty-four hours.

Tom Brace is amazed to hear that Miller's outfit had the leisure to sleep, since his canal crossing put him right into artillery fire. Nancy Brace, Tom's wife, asks if his killing the artillery soldiers earned him a Silver Star. Brace dismisses Nancy's question with a wink, patronizing her supposedly superficial focus on the decoration, but Betty Miller gushes that he probably "should have gotten several Silver Stars." Of his success as the grenades he threw hit their target, Tom says, "I want to tell you, I've never been so lucky."

The conversation is interrupted by the hostess who jokes about preparing for the next war, a joke that she repeats several times in a bout of drunken silliness. The Millers and the Braces use this disruption as an excuse to say goodnight and leave the party. The men retrieve their coats, and Lew Miller feels embarrassed about his own, noting that it looks dirty and wrinkled in Tom Brace's hand.

The rainy night makes Betty Miller fear they will not find a taxicab. Able to save the moment, Brace leaps forward into the rain and hails one, showing himself to be, as he was in his war stories, competent and in control. He tells the Millers to take that cab, that he will find another one, and, while they are still objecting, Brace runs off up the block to hail the next cab.

While they are riding home, Betty Miller talks about Tom Brace. Although she hung on his story and complimented him while he was telling it, in the cab she says that she thinks both of the Braces are conceited. She then turns on her husband, criticizing him for letting Tom Brace "eclipse" him for the whole evening and pointing out that Lew always lets others outshine him. She is totally unaware of all the thoughts her husband has had during the party. The story ends as Lew tells his wife, "for God's sake shut up."


Nancy Brace

By contrast to her husband's powerful personality, Nancy's personality does not develop very clearly in this story. However, she admits she can imagine his war experiences because he is able to describe them so vividly. This statement cannot be taken too seriously, though, because Nancy's understanding shows nothing close to an understanding of the horrors of warfare: several times, she comments on how "marvelous" it must have been.

Tom Brace treats his wife's support in a fond but belittling manner. When she makes a point of mentioning the Silver Star that he won, he acts as if her interest in the medal misses the more serious aspects of the story, attributing her lack of understanding to the fact that she is a woman. During much of the conversation, Nancy is gone to retrieve drinks for both couples, having heard Tom's stories over and over already, but she still acts upon her return as if she would have been very interested in hearing the parts that she missed. She is a doting wife who is taken for granted by a husband who has lived a successful life and expects the best.

Tom Brace

Handsome, athletic, Tom Brace is one of the two main characters of this story. He is the force that drives it, as his curiosity about Lew Miller's war experience and his willingness to prod Miller for information about it forces Miller to remember details that he has suppressed for years.

Brace is a forceful, tactless man. He is an account executive for an advertising firm, a salesman, which indicates that he is an outgoing person who is used to convincing people to do what he wants.

Yates implies that Brace is something of a boor, monopolizing the conversation with stories of his former glory, reveling in the bygone days when he was a war hero. At the end of the story, Betty Miller calls him "conceited," though there is no way of telling whether she is giving her true assessment of him or is just trying to build up her husband, who pales in comparison to Brace. More telling is the fact that at the start of the story the subject is already on the night at the canal, even though, at that point, no one knows that Brace and Miller both experienced that particular event: Brace has been telling his army stories even though he has no reason to believe that they are relevant to anyone else in the conversation.

Brace is presented as having a streak of genuine selflessness in him. When telling of his attack on the German gunmen that threatened his squad, he gives ample credit to the machine gunner who provided him with cover. When he runs into the rain to capture a cab, a feat which had just been pronounced impossible by Betty Miller, he chivalrously turns it over to the Millers, and when they try to reject his generosity, he cuts the conversation short by running off to hail another cab.

Yates also shows that, despite his good looks, confidence, and heroism, Brace is fixated on the war. He is obsessive about the details of Miller's experience, focusing on the calibers of guns and the type of resistance that was being put forward further up the canal from him. When Miller gives the number of the outfit he served in, Brace is able to recall exactly where that outfit was situated during the canal crossing, which Miller himself is unable to do. It is clear that Brace has studied the details of that maneuver, that he has thought a lot about the whole war, quite possibly to confirm the difficulty that he himself overcame and describes so humbly.

The Hostess

Near the end of the story, the conversation about the canal crossing is interrupted when the party's hostess joins her guests. She is drunk and jokes several times about the pointlessness of talking about the last war when there is always the next war to be planned.


Lew Miller recalls being reprimanded several times by Kavic, his squad's leader. Yates describes Kavic as a "scrawny, intensely competent, nineteen years old," implying that in any social situation other than the army, Kavic would be considered Miller's inferior by far.

Not only does Kavic shout at Miller, but he does so with exhausted patience, as if he finds it difficult to believe that anyone could be as inept or mindless as Miller is. He berates Miller for losing his raincoat and for losing his way in the dark. Kavic overreacts to events that actually come out all right in the end, and Miller is both indignant and shamed by having to take reprimands from such an unimposing authority. Yet, Miller still realizes that, on some level, Kavic is right: he should not lose equipment or get lost. It would be easy for Miller to forget his own shortcomings during the fighting by blaming the army for making a boy like Kavic his superior, but instead Miller accepts responsibility for his actions. That said, Kavic is contrasted with other soldiers and a lieutenant who act and speak politely to Miller.

Betty Miller

Betty Miller is aware that her husband, Lew, did not see much action during the war, but she is also protective of his reputation. Therefore, she looks for ways in which to build up his self-esteem. The story opens with her interrupting a war story by Tom Brace to ask if the division Brace is describing is the same one in which Miller served. Though it is not, they find that Miller's division was at the same action Brace is describing, though on the periphery of the attack. Betty's failed attempt to connect Lew to Brace's story serves to emphasize the contrast between Brace's "lucky" heroics and Miller's recollection of his own awkward, plodding functionality.

During the conversation, Betty draws out details about Tom Brace's experiences at the canal, asking him about his actions and exclaiming, "My God" at particularly dangerous moments in his tale. In the cab on the way home, though, she denounces both Tom and his wife as "those damn conceited Brace people," and she berates her husband for allowing them to "eclipse" him. Betty may actually be interested in Tom Brace's exploits, only pretending to be dismissive of him later, to show her husband that she is not impressed by the other man's actions. Or she may actually have found his war stories as irritating as her own husband's self-deprecating reserve.

Lew Miller

The story is told from Lew Miller's perspective, including his memories of the canal crossing which he does not verbalize. Miller is a copywriter for an advertising agency, working at a creative but unglamorous job. At the cocktail party, in conversation with Tom Brace, an account executive at the agency, and listening to his dramatic telling of a war story, Miller is forced to remember his own version of that story, the one he experienced himself. While the one veteran enjoys recalling his "lucky" advance across the canal, Lew Miller would prefer not to revisit the humiliating and scary experience he had in the same advance.

In the army, Miller served mostly in a public relations squad stationed in North Carolina. Late in World War II, he was sent to Europe. As Brace tells his war story, Betty Miller tries to introduce Lew Miller's own service and make it sound as if his military experience is comparable, an effort that has the opposite effect on her husband.

In Europe, Miller served as a private, a rifleman replacement. One vivid memory of the day and night at the canal is that he lost his raincoat that afternoon, and he had to suffer the indignity of being given a patronizing reprimand by the nineteen-year-old squad leader, who talked to him as if he were a fool or a child. While other soldiers at the canal, like Tom Brace, would remember charging into enemy gunfire, Miller remembers the confusion under fire of trying to follow the man in front of him in the night. While other soldiers were responsible for killing the enemy, his squad only had to deliver communications wire. While Brace was able to keep his wits about him enough to make a "lucky" throw that kills a German gunner, Miller is distracted enough by a soldier's cries to lose contact with his squad, which prompted another belittling reprimand from the squad leader when he rejoined them.

As a result of this cocktail party, Miller shrivels into himself with self-consciousness. He notices how handsome and athletic Brace is; when Brace holds Miller's topcoat out to him, the coat itself takes on his poor self-esteem, looking wrinkled and dirty in his hand.

In the cab on the ride home, Betty gives him a chance to salvage his self-esteem by belittling Brace as a conceited bore, but Miller refuses to go along with her. Instead, he tells his wife to "shut up."


Shane is in front of Lew Miller in line as they advanced toward the canal. Miller could just barely keep sight of Shane, and, when a loud wail from an injured soldier distracted him, he turned back to find that he had lost track of Shane, severing his connection to his squad.


Wilson is the assistant squad leader, after Kavic, a somewhat ridiculous authority figure. He is overweight, a farmer from Arkansas, not exactly the kind of keen military mind that inspires confidence. Unlike Kavic, Wilson is not belligerent toward the troops under him: he seems to have no particular agenda in mind, and instead shows himself to be just following Kavic's orders. When Miller runs into Wilson at the far side of the canal, Wilson does not reprimand him for having gotten separated, but later he brings him an order that he is to see Kavic, who does the reprimanding.



Yates dramatizes in this story how individuals remember shared experiences (perhaps especially of war) in separate ways and how those different ways of remembering determine or express the person's sense of self. Tom Brace selects from all his military experience in order to shape his story. Soldiers have many experiences in military service, but only some of them offer material for good stories in later civilian life. Tom's story about the night at the canal conveys a picture of himself as lucky, agile, and courageous. Now an account executive at an advertising agency, a salesman, Tom uses his charisma to draw attention to himself and to influence others. His war story in a sense advertises him as a certain kind of man, an image he wants to project. His repeating his favorite war stories helps enliven the present situation, where he dominates a conversation at a cocktail party. That he drinks a lot at that party suggests he may use alcohol to insulate himself and reduce his inhibitions at the same time. It is implied that the Braces and the Millers do not know each other very well, and keeping a conversation going with strangers may be uncomfortable or difficult.

Lew Miller's memories of that night at the canal similarly reinforce his sense of himself, and yet in the present at the cocktail party, what he remembers of that night emphasizes what he wishes no one would see in him. In addition to showing how complex a given military action is and how people engaged in it may have very different tasks and perceptions of it, Miller's memory reinforces his sense of his own physical inferiority and timid personality. Miller is a man more suited for desk work; he is ill-suited for manual work or military action. He is not athletic or agile. What he remembers of that night convinces him that he lacks those traits traditionally associated, particularly in romantic literature and in the movies, with combat. In each case, the memory of the man is an expression of his self-concept. The tour of military service entails many experiences across months, even years of service, and the selected memories work to highlight the man's positive sense of self or to emphasize the man's sense of personal inadequacy. Either way, memory of past performance contributes to the way these men present themselves in a social situation.

Topics For Further Study

  • Tom Brace recalls vividly details about the night at the canal in March 1945, at the end of World War II, while Lew Miller would prefer not remembering anything about his night there. Talk to at least three people who have served in the military and from your interviews draw a conclusion about whose experience is more common. From your findings, develop a questionnaire that will help returning service people record their experiences, along with an explanation of why you think your particular questions would be useful.
  • Recall a time when you did something that others assumed was more exciting than it was. Write a story that compares the experience that you had with the experience that others think you should have had.
  • Nancy Brace and Betty Miller find it hard to understand what their husbands went through at the canal. Look through some books about war at your library, and make a list of five or more that you think they should read, with a short explanation about why you think each one would help them understand.
  • One point implied in this story is that people tend to forget about wars soon after they are over. Read about the official memorials in Washington, D.C., commemorating World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. Write a brief description of each, and explain which you think is most effective.
  • Why do you think Yates gave Miller and Brace the jobs that they hold at the advertising firm where they work? Explain what a copywriter and an account executive do and how these two jobs would be suitable to these men.


Self-aggrandizement is the act of exaggerating one's own importance. In this story, to some extent, Tom Brace is self-aggrandizing when he tells his war story which shows himself in a positive light, when he dominates the conversation and yet appears to eschew compliments that come from his wife and Betty Miller.

The story Brace tells suggests that he was heroic in combat. At the canal, while Miller recalls having muddled across a bridge in the dark, Brace remembers how he and his squad rowed across in boats, in direct artillery range. Brace was in the first boat. They were fired upon when they were about halfway across. The men in his boat led the assault once the canal was crossed, with a machine gunner armed with a Browning automatic rifle (B.A.R.) keeping the enemy distracted while Brace moved close enough to throw a hand grenade at the German guns firing on them. Though some of the men in his squad drowned in the crossing and others were shot, quite a few probably were saved by Brace's being able to throw a grenade and take out the enemy artillery. Luckily for Brace now, his wife is the one brings up his being awarded a Silver Star for his deed.

Clearly, Brace has an ongoing fascination with the war. He initiates the discussion with Lew Miller and specifically recalls troop locations and gun calibers. When his wife says, "I never get tired of Tom's war stories," it is clear that she has heard many stories, often repeated. The insistence on reliving the time when he proved himself to be heroic may be a sign that Brace needs attention and approval, but Yates also includes evidence to suggest an alternate interpretation, that he is not needy at all. He is generous in sharing the glory for his successful assault at the canal with the B.A.R. man who provided him cover, emphasizing what a good soldier that man was. That in itself might be false humility, but Brace has been professionally successful since the war, so the question remains about why he needs to relive old victories. He is athletic, handsome, and confident. He generously runs out into the rain to hail one taxi for the Millers and then another for him and his wife. He seems self-confident, but his continual return to his wartime success may hint that something is missing in his present life for which he is compensating. In any event, in the story, Betty Miller has the final word: he is conceited and self-aggrandizing.

The Subjectivity of Interpretation

This story suggests that interpretation is subjective. Readers see the memory that Lew Miller has but does not share at the cocktail party, a memory that shows him in a negative light. But Yates also provides details about Miller's past which Miller does not emphasize, which might modify Miller's judgment of himself. For example, Miller dwells on the anger of his commanding officer, on feeling demeaned by him in front of the other soldiers. He is ashamed of the small failures, his losing his raincoat, his getting separated from his men, and over all, he remembers Kavic's caustic criticism. He does not dwell on the fact that his men also caught direct artillery hits, which caused them to roll off the road into the ditches and plausibly contributed to their line getting broken. Then, too, Miller had spent "most of his service at a public-relations desk in North Carolina" before he was transferred into the infantry in 1944, toward the end of the war. Desk work for three years did not prepare him for the intense physical strain of infantry combat. Also, Kavic may be in charge at age nineteen because he has seen more action than Miller has before the night at the canal. Like Brace, Miller remembers good things about his fellow soldiers, how a lieutenant spoke politely to him, how the men at the wall gave each other a hand as they climbed over it. But these details do not work to sabotage Miller's self-esteem, and so he does not dwell on them. Similarly, in the untold memories Brace has, there may be more than a few that do not show him in a heroic light, yet those details of his military experience he chooses not to describe, or he may have selectively forgotten what he does not want to remember. Over the years, memory fashions the stories, refining, deleting, all to serve the teller's purpose and as an expression of the teller's subjective view of the past and of himself.


Point of View

Point of view is the angle from which the action of the story is seen. In this case, the story is told in third-person, limited omniscient point of view. The story is told in the third person, and readers are given the inner thoughts of one character, but not the inner thoughts of others. In "The Canal," readers are allowed to know Lew Miller's thoughts. Most of his memory about the night at the canal is not spoken aloud to Tom and Nancy Brace. The story moves from the past to the present and from Brace's narrated story to the story Miller recalls but chooses not to narrate. As the story progresses, the contrast heightens between the two men: Brace becomes more heroic, more competent, the longer he talks; Miller becomes more focused on his own inadequacy as he reviews his own memory of that night. At one point, the story cuts away from the cocktail party while Miller and Tom Brace are discussing the guns that were aimed at Brace's squad. The text includes a long vignette of almost three pages, including dialogue, all depicting Miller's attempts to follow the man marching in front of him and his becoming lost, crossing the canal, and eventually rejoining his squad. These are his thoughts, as Brace speaks. Then Brace asks, "So what happened after you got to the other side?" The readers know what happened, but Brace, who has so far been talking most of the time, is only now ready to hear Miller's story. Miller and his men drew fire on the road as they approached and that contributed to Miller's getting separated from his squad. Miller could make a story of that approach and the cries of injured men and how the soldiers helped each other, but that part he neglects in order to focus privately on his own inadequacy. Miller remembers certain parts of the canal crossing and what he focuses on now does not make a story he would want to tell. In these ways, the story is shaped and interpreted via the point of view of the person through whose eyes the action is seen.

Foil Characters

Juxtaposed contrasting characters serve to underscore each other's distinctive traits. In "The Canal," Tom Brace and Lew Miller are presented as opposites in style and experience: Brace is an extrovert, who enjoys telling complimentary stories about himself; Miller is reserved, perhaps even introverted, and, according to his wife at least, he tends to allow others to eclipse him. Brace is tall, athletic, and talkative, while Miller is less physically capable and tends to be a listener. Miller wants to forget the war, and Brace wants to remember certain details of it. Because they are so different, they draw each other out, making readers more aware of each character's personality traits by seeing those traits missing in the other.

The wives, though, are not so explicitly contrasted. At least at the party, which is the only view the story provides of her, Nancy Brace is a big supporter of her husband's war stories, hanging on his every word and explaining that he makes her feel as if she were there. At the party, Betty Miller seems both admiring of Tom and quietly supportive of her husband. She acts as though she envies Betty, wishing that her husband would talk more, even though she knows that he saw little action during the war. In Betty's comment that "Lew never talks about the war," Miller sees his wife as romanticizing him as "a faintly tragic, sensitive husband, perhaps, or at any rate a charmingly modest one." Miller sees this as proof of her love, though he resolves to tell her privately that she must "stop making him a hero whenever anybody mentioned the war." So publicly, both wives appear supportive and loving. Yet the conversation in the cab between the Millers suggests otherwise: Betty attacks Tom Brace and his wife and then she attacks her husband, too. Whether Nancy has this same duplicity is left open to conjecture. It is possible that she also has her private resentment: she listens repeatedly to Tom's stories, and perhaps repeatedly in public, he dismisses her. If this reading is logical, then the wives serve less as foil characters than the husbands.

Historical Context

The Last Days of World War II

Yates does not say where the battle described in the story took place, but it is possible that it took place in Germany, given that it occurred in March of 1945 and involved American troops advancing against the Germans.

The conflict that Yates describes has some similarity to the battle for Remagen on March 7, 1945. Remagen is a city in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, along the Rhine River, just south of Cologne. After the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, as Allied forces pushed their way into Germany, the Rhine provided the German army with a natural barrier of defense. The Lu-dendorff Bridge at Remagen was the last remaining bridge, a valuable asset for the invading army as it moved heavy equipment in its advance toward the capitol, Berlin. The Allies used the bridge, despite German efforts to destroy it before the Allies arrived. After the Allies' conquest on March 7, the bridge withstood ten more days of German air assault before collapsing. The fictional conflict in this story takes place at a canal and not at the Rhine River, but this area of Germany is full of canals dating back hundreds of years. Moreover, the strategic importance of the battle at Remagen indicates that it had some influence on Yates in conceiving the conflict in the story.

The war in Europe only persisted a few weeks after the canal assault in this story took place. In late April, the last of the German army was cut in two by American and Soviet troops, devastating its chances of survival. In Berlin, Adolph Hitler, the German chancellor who had pursued dominance over Europe and Africa, committed suicide on April 30. By May 7, the remaining commander of the German army signed an unconditional surrender. May 8 is celebrated as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day.

Postwar Corporate America

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the United States enjoyed a level of economic stability that had not been known since the start of the Great Depression in 1929. The U.S. economy thrived, having the distinct advantage of profiting from wartime spending. Since bombing had caused damage throughout countries that had previously been economic powerhouses, such as Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, the United States had a distinct advantage.

The booming manufacturing economy led to the development of a new corporate culture. The war years had led to innovations in both product development and in public relations, and this, along with the easy access of money for research and development, gave U.S. businesses new opportunities for expansion. In addition, the postwar boom in college education for returning veterans led companies toward structuring their internal workings around scientific principles.

A corporate culture and worldview arose that was specifically associated with the 1950s. If that decade was later seen as conformist and self-satisfied, it may be because the previous decades had been so difficult, shaped as they were by a global economic depression followed by World War II. People who might have held blue-collar jobs or worked as manual laborers before the war (provided that they could find jobs in the 1930s) had an opportunity, after the war, to move into respected white-collar office positions. The corporate culture made it possible for these people to move up into jobs requiring intellect and verbal skills in the same way that, half a century earlier, Henry Ford's theory of division of labor had made it possible for unskilled farm workers to hold assembly line factory jobs, building automobiles.

The advertising agency came to be seen as the epitome of the corporate culture. Referred to throughout the 1950s by the general, sometimes disparaging term, Madison Avenue, due to the large concentration of the country's most prominent advertising firms on that street in New York City, advertising was seen by cynics as the ultimate end product of corporate culture: a huge industry that produced nothing but images, creating fears in its viewers intended to manipulate them into buying products. Books such as Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955); William Whyte's The Organization Man (1956); and Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders (1957) and The Status Seekers (1959) described a corporate culture, epitomized by Madison Avenue, that was mercilessly conformist. Madison Avenue men were characterized as group thinkers who spent their days worrying about job security, advancement, and social status, feting clients over martinis at lunch and comparing themselves to coworkers at cocktail parties at night. It is significant that the main characters in "The Canal" are coworkers at an advertising firm, given that the advertising firm came to represent the drive for consumerism, competition, and conformity in the 1950s.

Critical Overview

During his lifetime, Richard Yates was read and respected by other writers to a much greater degree than he was read by the general public. His 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road, sold well, and over the years, it continued to be widely known, mostly due to its being assigned in literature classes. But from 1961 until Yates died in 1992, his literary career was a long slide into oblivion.

In 2001, though, The Collected Stories of Richard Yates was published, sparking admiration from all corners of the literary world. "The Canal" first appeared in print in this book, though many of the other stories from the collection had been previously published. Esquire magazine named the collection one of the "Best Books of 2001," noting, "It's simply criminal that [these stories] were out of print so long." Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, writing in the Library Journal, warns readers that Yates's world-view can be bleak but tells them out-right that "Despite the general pessimism of the stories, they never seem contrived or self-indulgent." She goes on to recommend the collection for all academic and larger public libraries. In Booklist, Brad Hooper goes even further with his praise, asserting that "No public library catering to short story lovers should be without this career-encompassing collection of the work of an important American story writer." He ends his review by noting that Yates "deserves a wider audience among contemporary fiction readers."

The admiration for this book is best summed up by John de Falbe, who wrote a long review of it for The Spectator. "Though many aspects of the world he describes have gone, the stories transcend time," de Falbe writes. "They are about loneliness and loss, failure and dreams, dignity and grace. They are tough, unsentimental, compassionate and beautiful in their apparent simplicity."


David Kelly

Kelly is an instructor of creative writing and literature at two schools in Illinois. In this essay, Kelly argues that the independence of thought shown by Betty Miller marks this as a story against gender stereotyping.

From the perspective of the twenty-first century, Richard Yates's short story "The Canal" offers a look at the post-World War II years that is both familiar and revealing, particularly in the ways that Yates treats the subject of gender relations. There is a tendency in the early 2000s to over-generalize the roles of women in the 1950s, to see their place in society as auxiliary at best, and Yates's story plays to that perspective by focusing on the men. Still, his female characters are not just extras in a drama that hardly concerns them but are indeed primary forces in giving meaning to the war story (or stories) that are considered in "The Canal."

The main focus of this story is the cocktail party conversation between two men, Lew Miller and Tom Brace, about their experiences during the war, especially in a particular conflict in which they both took part some seven years earlier. Brace was in the thick of enemy gunfire and had the chance to distinguish himself as a soldier, killing several Germans, winning a medal and probably saving the lives of some of the men who served under him, though he is too modest to say so: he is the one who initiates the conversation and drives it forward with his insatiable curiosity about events of that day. Miller has mostly suppressed the events of that conflict: prodded by Brace, he recalls losing equipment, becoming separated from his squad in the dark, and being mercilessly reprimanded by his squad leader.

It is as important to the story that Brace's war experience be idealized as it is that Miller's be as humiliating as possible, because this is, at its core, the story of Miller's looking back at a certain moment which he would rather not revisit. His humiliation is rounded out by the presence of women. The wives listen to their husbands' conversation with apparent awe and admiration, even though what Miller is willing to say varies noticeably from what he thinks about the night at the canal. Both women prompt the men to tell their war stories and express fascination about an aspect of life that they never lived and never will. Though they are peripheral to the main thrust of the story, Yates develops their characters subtly.

Nancy Brace sets the standard for wifely behavior in this story, taking on the role of subordinate to her husband, acting as his assistant and biggest admirer. In this way, she comes close to the stereotypical 1950s wife. Nancy reminds Brace of details he has missed, and she marvels at his feats. She compliments his storytelling ability as being so varied that she could listen to his tales over and again and being so vivid that she feels she has lived his war experience. It is all nonsense, of course, as she proves by describing the experience of combat as "marvelous." If the whole conversation that "The Canal" centers on is just one long display of Tom Brace on his "luck" night at the canal, then it is a conversation that could not proceed without Nancy as the audience.

In return for her support, Brace treats Nancy with dismissive indulgence. With such a complimentary audience, it is perhaps easy for him to take her for granted. When the maid does not come at his summoning, Nancy fetches drinks for the couples, for which he thanks her, but abruptly. When she brings out that his actions earned Brace a Silver Star, he uses the opportunity to underline at her expense his own presumed disinterest in the honor. He points out that a medal is a silly thing to care about, winking at Miller and asking patronizingly, "Isn't that just like a woman?" Though Nancy says that her husband's repetitious war stories are meaningful to her, he assumes that, because she is a woman, she can never grasp their meaning.

Throughout the story, Betty Miller's behavior seems to parallel that of Nancy Brace. She, too, tries to build up her husband's military career, even though she has far less to work with and is met with resistance from Miller. The story begins with Betty cutting into Tom Brace's monologue about his war experiences to point out that Lew Miller was in the war too and has his own tales to tell. When Miller discusses his service, she attempts to clarify for the Braces that he was an officer, but he shoots down her clarification by saying that he was only an officer stateside and served as a private when he was in combat. As Miller sees it, she glorifies his military career precisely because he never talks about it, having built what he thinks is "a special kind of women's-magazine romanticism" around it. Unlike Brace, who relies on his wife's encouragement, Miller discourages his wife's promoting him.

Yates presents Betty Miller as a complex character with too many contradictions for her to be easily interpreted as either building her identity around her husband's experiences or not. Throughout the story, she is generous with her praise for Tom Brace, often blurting out her admiration for his story that he clearly intends his audience to admire. If she sees this conversation as a competition between Brace and Miller, where one's achievement attempts to overshadow the other's, then she would have a natural interest in tempering her enthusiasm: the flip side of her attempts to get Miller to open up about his war experiences may be to get Brace to say less about his own. The fact that Betty Miller is so free with her praise for Brace indicates that she does not see this as a competition at all, that she is an impartial audience, an independent thinker.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Sloan Wilson's 1955 novel, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, captures the mood of young advertising executives (like Tom Brace in this story). It is funny, poignant, and filled with mixed emotions about the struggle to succeed in commercial America and the fear that such success comes at the expense of one's soul.
  • Yates's best known work is his 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road, about a young husband and wife in the fifties who are upwardly mobile but eaten away by insecurity and discontent. It has been in print since its initial publication and is available as of 2006 from Vintage Contemporary.
  • Yates's short story, "The B.A.R. Man," is about an army veteran, John Fallon, who works as a clerk at an insurance company and remembers his former glory in the war. He recalls that he was often referred to as "a damn good B.A.R. man," using the exact words that Tom Brace in "The Canal" uses to refer to a fellow soldier, implying that he might be the same character. This story is included in The Collected Stories of Richard Yates (2001)
  • Yates is believed to have been a major influence on Raymond Carver, a master short story writer who also dealt sparingly with domestic issues. Carver's story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," concerns a situation similar to the one described in "The Canal," with two couples talking about love instead of war. It is available in a collection by the same name, published by Knopf in 1989.
  • Another writer who examined the discontents of postwar suburbia is John Cheever. Cheever's story "The Country Husband" offers a meticulous look at the times and begins with a surrealistic scenario that mirrors the problem of Lew Miller in this story: a man returns home after being in a plane crash, but his family, having heard no news of the crash, does not see the significance of what happened to him. First published in 1954, it is frequently reprinted in literary anthologies and is included in The Stories of John Cheever, published by Knopf in 2000.
  • Critics regularly point out how Yates's precise, illuminating writing style resembles that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the great writers of the twentieth century. No one Fitzgerald story is particularly like those by Yates, but Fitzgerald's stories are available in Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection, published by Scribner in 1995.

On the other hand, Betty lets go of her social mask once the Millers are in a taxicab, driving away from the Braces. In private conversation with her husband, she pronounces that Nancy and Tom Brace are conceited. This comment may indicate that she feels hurt about losing the competition on which husband served more nobly in the war: if so, it would mean that her own ego is tied to Lew Miller's achievements, affirming the 1950s stereotype of the dependent woman. Her outburst in the cab may also be an invitation to her husband, intending to draw out his own anger. If she believes that Miller has been waiting all night to bad-mouth the Braces with her, she proves to be mistaken: she apparently does not understand him well at all.

It is clear that Yates has given Lew and Betty Miller separate interests, and, in doing so, he has subverted traditional gender expectations. A traditional wife could be thought to be, like Nancy Brace, supportive of her husband, building her ego as she builds his and losing status when he loses social ground. To some extent, the Millers have that kind of relationship, too. They can also be understood as a conflicted, mismatched couple, where one partner gains self-esteem by belittling the other. If Betty Miller were angry with her husband, disappointed when he does nothing to promote himself, their marriage might be seen to fit this formula. Instead, their marriage is a mixture of both: she wishes the best for him, she dislikes his competitor, but she does not hold Miller's defeat in the social arena against him. Yates has made their relationship too complex and real for that.

Understanding Betty Miller is a bit easier because readers are also presented with Nancy Brace, who is a standard for loyal wifely behavior. Even so, Betty Miller is not an easy person to understand. Because this story focuses on Lew Miller, his memories and his thoughts, there is enough temptation to not try to decipher Betty at all, and the fact that she does not fit into standard patterns or expectations discourages getting to know her.

A clue about Betty might be provided in the drunken words of the party's hostess, who repeats, thinking that she is clever, that they should be preparing for "the next war" instead of focusing on the last. As a woman, Betty Miller is as detached from World War II as Lew Miller wishes, unsuccessfully, that he could be himself. She does give a fair effort toward understanding it, either through her own husband's stories or through Brace's, but finds herself unable to feel drawn in as Nancy Brace does. That leaves her looking toward the future in a way that her husband does not, giving her an independent identity that in some sense subverts the stereotype of the good wife.

Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on "The Canal," in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.

Stewart O'Nan

In the following review, O'Nan praises Yates's collection of stories as "flawless," and comments on the author's deft use of characters on the fringe of society, their illusions, and their disappointment that follows the empty promises of the American dream.

In the years since his death, Richard Yates has been that saddest of literary celebrities, the beloved but forgotten author. What's most shocking about this is that he wrote not one but three great books. His early masterpiece. Revolutionary Road, has barely remained in print, and his other brilliant novel, The Easter Parade, is currently "indefinitely out of stock." His third great book, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, is included in this omnibus collection, along with his later stories from Liars in Love, and nine previously uncollected pieces. Michael Chabon isn't alone when he says he hopes this book will do for Richard Yates what Knopf's big red collection did for John Cheever.

It may, and deservedly. The work is there, and still fresh, perhaps even definitive. Yates's fifties stories of young and insecure Americans coming to grips with their less-than-ideal lives presages the work of Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, and Tobias Wolff. In his signature piece "The Best of Everything," two working-class lovers realize their impending marriage won't solve their problems—that in all probability it will only add to them. Yates's language is stripped down, his tone—like their lives—flat and emotionless: "She tried to sound excited, but it wasn't easy." "Somehow he'd expected more of the Friday before his wedding." That vague sense of letdown colors the story a dingy gray. The characters' mix of hope and resignation is unsettling, yet rings true.

Like those later, more famous writers, Yates is most at home with unheroic characters, people on the fringes—lonely shopgirls and troubled kids, tubercular patients and disgruntled vets. No matter how downtrodden his people are, they still want to believe in their own unrecognized promise. Yates's subject is disappointment, the bitterness that follows our losses, and often our complicity in those failures, our most cherished pretensions leading us astray. His little characters dream big, all the time fearing they're impostors, terrified of being found out. And the world does strip them of their illusions, again and again, sometimes cruelly. Middle-class life is spiritually vacant and economically precarious, the promises America makes are hollow, and yet Yates's people still chase after their impossible, often secondhand ideals.

This is true of the later stories as well. Though Yates wrote well into the mid-eighties, his frame remains the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, his focus the discrepancies between everyday life and the false promises of Wall Street and Hollywood, how we fall for the fleeting illusions of romantic love and money and fame—fitting for someone whose favorite author was Fitzgerald.

And it's all done in a straight-ahead, lucid style, so plainspoken that for a while in the sixties and seventies he was scorned as old-fashioned, behind the times. The eighties vindicated him, but, far from being conservative, his work is subversive, telling us truths we'd rather not contemplate.

As a package, the book is flawless, Richard Russo's introduction strikes exactly the right note, with its anecdote about his mother's never-achieved dream house. The addition of the nine uncollected stories is a bonanza for Yates fans. The best of them, "Evening on the Cote d'Azur," ranks with his finest work (appearing here in Ploughshares back in 1976), and even the lesser efforts give the reader a peek at a writer warming to his material. The editor has wisely included them after the published stories rather than before—a mistake that makes the first hundred pages of The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor a torture.

Even better, Holt has plans to reissue The Easter Parade and several other titles in the coming seasons. It's good news for writers and readers who love the widely anthologized "Builders" and "Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired." It's just a first step, but, with luck, maybe Richard Yates will receive his due.

Source: Stewart O'Nan, Review of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, in Ploughshares, Vol. 27, No. 1, Spring 2001, pp. 217-18.

Lee Siegel

In the following essay, Siegel discusses Yates's chronicling of characters "mired in memory" and living the "quiet desperation of unacknowledged lives," his sympathy for his characters, his style, and his neo-naturalistic outlook.

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Source: Lee Siegel, "The Second Coming of Richard Yates," in Harper's Magazine, July 2001, pp. 82-87.

lake Bailey

In the following essay, Bailey gives a critical analysis of Yates's life and work.

For most of his career, Richard Yates seemed always on the brink of gaining the fame he so richly deserved. His first novel, Revolutionary Road (1961), was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of realism, a definitive portrait of postwar suburban malaise. William Styron called it "a deft, beautiful novel that deserves to be a classic," and Tennessee Williams said "if more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don't know what it is." The novel was nominated for a National Book Award and sold ten thousand copies in hardback, eminently respectable for a literary first novel, all the more so for a novel that many found almost unbearably depressing. "You see yourself here," wrote Fred Chappell in 1971. "When you have an argument with your wife, or with someone who is a bit less articulate than you … you begin to hear Frank Wheeler standing inside your voice, expostulating with false earnestness. A glib pompous fat voice with an undertone of hysteria, and it echoes hollow and ridiculous in the most comfortably furnished room."

Yates was also a master of the short story, and many believe that his first collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962), is an even greater achievement than Revolutionary Road. Years after it was first published, The New York Times Book Review (1 November 1981) declared it "almost the New York equivalent of Dubliners," and pointed out that "the mere mention of its title is enough to produce quick, affirmative nods from a whole generation of readers." On the cover of the 1989 Vintage edition, the writer Ann Beattie called the book "sharply focused, beautifully written and powerfully moving. Deservedly it has become a classic."

But neither a "classic" novel nor a "classic" collection of short stories—and arguably there were more to come—was enough to elevate Yates's reputation among those of the greatest American writers, perhaps because it was only his fellow writers who recognized the magnitude of his achievement. Throughout Yates's career, his more-fortunate colleagues such as Kurt Vonnegut, Styron, Frank Conroy—and others, some of them former students of Yates—were tireless in their efforts to promote his work. With their help he received any number of prestigious grants and awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Rockefeller, Rosenthal and Guggenheim foundations, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Despite such consistent achievement and critical appreciation, however, Yates's books tended to sell a little more poorly each time they were published, while Yates himself continued to live in tiny furnished apartments in the cities where he happened to have jobs—New York, Washington, Iowa City, Boston, Los Angeles, Wichita, and finally Tuscaloosa. Sometimes the strain, financial and otherwise, became too much, and Yates would disappear into the alcoholism and mental illness that plagued him throughout his adult life, often resulting in long periods of institutional care. A few years before his death, the critic and novelist Carolyn See observed, "He's not going to get the recognition he deserves, because to read Yates is as painful as getting all your teeth filled down to the gum with no anesthetic."

An absolute realist both in terms of subject and style, what mattered most to Yates was what Hemingway liked to call "writing well and truly"—with extra emphasis, perhaps, on the second adverb. "Dick Yates never compromised with less than the perfect word or less than the whole truth," said his friend E. Barrett Prettyman Jr. The "whole truth" as Yates saw it, however, was hardly conducive to attracting a wide readership. His characters tend to be quietly desperate members of the middle class: attractive, well-educated people who cannot abide their mundane lives in prosperous, postwar America. Trapped in tedious, white-collar jobs, they try to escape from an oppressive sense of their own anonymity by constructing romantic self-images; they convince themselves that they are more creative, intellectual, and sophisticated than most of their bourgeois counterparts, and thus deserve better things. Inevitably, such willful delusion leads to frustration and even disaster, as Yates's characters are made to face the awful truth of who they are and what they have allowed their lives to become.

Richard Walden Yates was born on 3 February 1926 in Yonkers, New York, the son of Vincent Matthew Yates and Ruth (née Maurer) Yates. Both parents were aspiring artists, the mother in particular, and would later serve as models for the manqué strivers who populate Yates's fiction. Vincent Yates studied to be a concert tenor, but was unable to make a living at it, and later became a salesman for General Electric in Schenectady, New York. Ruth Yates fancied herself a sculptor and cultivated her slender talent with what her son considered a foolish and irresponsible tenacity. After she divorced her husband in 1929, she continued to depend on him to subsidize her sculpting career, often at the expense of supporting her children. Yates's mother appears again and again in his fiction, portraits that reflect both his compassion and sometimes scathing bitterness. The importance of this relationship can hardly be overemphasized: it instilled in Yates an overwhelming impulse to expose not only the self-deceit of others, but of himself as well, forcing him to examine his motives, in life as in art, with pitiless objectivity.

Yates's mother insisted on sending her son to a proper New England boarding school, despite the fact that her former husband was hardly in a position to pay for such a wild extravagance. He finally relented when she was able to arrange a scholarship for Richard to Avon Old Farms School—a "funny little school" in Connecticut that was known for accepting misfits whom other schools would not take. Yates's school days are memorialized in his 1978 novel, A Good School, where he appears as the inept, disheveled, but somewhat resilient poor boy Bill Grove (a Yates persona who also appears in "Regards at Home" and the 1986 novel Cold Springs Harbor). Like Grove, Yates gradually gained a measure of social acceptance at Avon, and during his last two years he was editor of the school newspaper; this experience, he later claimed, was the beginning of his long apprenticeship as a writer.

After his graduation in 1944, Yates was drafted into the army along with most of his classmates. Like Robert Prentice in Yates's autobiographical novel, A Special Providence (1969), Yates got off to an awkward start as an eighteen-year-old infantry private in Belgium and France. Tall (six-foot-three inches), skinny, and clumsy, he tried to compensate for his physical shortcomings by flaunting his prep-school wisdom, which invariably provoked the ridicule of his older and less privileged comrades. Eventually Yates learned to keep silent and try to prove himself as a man of action rather than intellect. During the Battle of the Bulge he contracted pleurisy, but refused any immediate medical attention until he collapsed and was taken away by an ambulance. His weakened lungs left him a semi-invalid for the rest of his life.

On his return to New York in 1946, Yates took an apartment in the Village, where he planned to read as much as possible and live the life of a "knockabout intellectual," à la Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. As he later reminisced in an article for The New York Times Book Review (19 April 1981), "At twenty … I embarked on a long binge of Ernest Hemingway that entailed embarrassingly frequent attempts to talk and act like characters in the early Hemingway books. And I was hooked on T. S. Eliot at the same time, which made for an uncomfortable set of mannerisms." In 1948 he met his first wife, Sheila Bryant, at a party in the Village. Sheila, like Frank Wheeler's wife April, had nursed modest acting ambitions prior to marriage, but was content to sacrifice this aspect of her Village identity for the pleasures of domesticity. But the marriage proved difficult from the start: Yates was soon fired from his job as a rewrite man for the United Press, and his pregnant wife was forced to take secretarial jobs to pay the bills.

Shortly after his daughter Sharon was born in 1950, Yates contracted tuberculosis and spent almost two years in veterans hospitals. As his friend and publisher Seymour Lawrence put it, Yates used the time "to read and read and read. Those hospitals were his Harvard, Yale, and Princeton." Yates's most important discovery was Flaubert: "Madame Bovary," he wrote in 1981, "seemed ideally suited to serve as a guide, if not a model, for the novel that was taking shape in my mind. I wanted that kind of balance and quiet resonance on every page, that kind of foreboding mixed with comedy, that kind of inexorable destiny in the heart of a lonely, romantic girl." The novel that was taking shape in Yates's mind, of course, was Revolutionary Road, though its slow gestation from draft to painstaking draft took many more years of exhausting, Flaubertian toil. Meanwhile, Yates benefited in another way from his long convalescence, as the experience provided material for two memorable short stories set in tuberculosis wards, "No Pain Whatsoever" and "Out with the Old", that later appeared in his collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.

After he was discharged from the hospital, Yates received a veteran's disability pension that allowed him to quit his job and live abroad for two years. It was here that his artistic career began in earnest. As he later put it, "I had nothing to do but write short stories and try to make each one better than the last. I learned a lot." While in Europe, Yates wrote several drafts of at least two dozen stories, eight of which he managed to sell to magazines. The first of these, "Jody Rolled the Bones", was accepted in 1953 by the Atlantic Monthly and won the "Atlantic Firsts" award. More important, it attracted the attention of a young editor at the Atlantic Monthly Press, Seymour Lawrence, who encouraged Yates to put aside story-writing and start a novel. In 1956 Yates submitted 130 pages of a draft titled The Getaway, about a restless suburban couple who longs to escape to Europe and "discover themselves." Lawrence recommended a contract, but his associates at Atlantic/Little, Brown were less impressed, calling the novel "one of the many imitators of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit." Four years and several drafts later, the book, now titled Revolutionary Road, was finally accepted. It was immediately recognized as the work of a major talent, and Yates's life was forever changed. On the one hand, the strain of perfecting the novel—of making "every sentence right, every comma and semicolon in place," as Yates wrote to Lawrence—had taken a toll on his marriage, and he and Sheila were divorced in 1959; but his labors paid off, and in the years ahead Yates would be offered prestigious jobs, anthologies to edit, and the acclaim of his fellow writers.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness was published the following year, and it consolidated Yates's reputation as a prose stylist and astute observer of postwar American society. As the title suggests, most of the stories are variations on Yates's lifelong themes of disillusionment and isolation—"exercises in the building up and tearing down of expectations," as Jerome Klinkowitz put it in 1986. The first two stories are early treatments of Yates's preoccupation with class differences. In "Doctor Jack-o'-lantern", a well-meaning young teacher tries to make a welfare child named Vincent Sabella feel at home in a suburban Long Island school. Her fourth-graders, however, are already adept at noting the indicators of class, and subject the squirming Vincent to a silent, withering appraisal of his "absurdly new corduroys, absurdly old sneakers and a yellow sweatshirt, much too small, with the shredded remains of a Mickey Mouse design stamped on his chest." When Vincent tries to win their approval by claiming to have seen a movie on everybody's lips, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he is ridiculed for his funny accent and obvious lying: "I sore that pitcha. Doctor Jack-o'-lantern and Mr. Hide." After Miss Price privately admonishes him about the importance of telling the truth, he vents his humiliation by scrawling obscenities in an alley behind the classroom. A prissy girl tells the teacher what Vincent has done, and the bewildered Miss Price wonders how to proceed—"sorting out half-remembered fragments of a book she had once read on the subject of seriously disturbed children. Perhaps, after all, she should never have undertaken the responsibility of Vincent Sabella's loneliness." She makes another attempt to reach the boy with a gentle speech about how much he has hurt her, and this seems to have the desired effect. Abjectly remorseful, Vincent leaves the classroom and is accosted by two popular boys, whom he tells with pathetic bravado that the teacher "din say nothin'… She let the ruler do her talkin' for her." The boys are duly impressed, until Miss Price discredits Vincent with a benignly cheerful greeting. This time the boys are unforgiving, and they run away jeering "So long, Doctor Jack-o'-lantern!" Now hopelessly alienated from his more privileged peers, Vincent returns to the alley behind the classroom and draws a grotesque nude over the title "Miss Price."

"The Best of Everything" is another study of miscommunication between people of different social backgrounds. Grace is a sensitive office girl who has been educated in the ways of refined snobbery by her sophisticated roommate, Martha. When Grace is courted by a loutish young man of humble means named Ralph, the roommate dismisses him as the sort of guy who says "terlet" for "toilet" and whose mother keeps "those damn little china elephants on the mantelpiece." For a while Grace obediently tries to avoid him, but he persists, and one night at an American Legion dance she decides to marry him when he croons "Easter Parade" in her ear. (This song is a central motif in Yates's later novel of the same name, where it serves a similar purpose of evoking an ideal of romance that is inevitably shattered by reality.) When her roommate realizes that Grace's mind is made up, she tries to make amends for her earlier insensitivity by giving the couple a chance to be alone together in the apartment. Perhaps in homage to Martha's generosity, Grace decides to do the "sophisticated" thing by giving herself to Ralph before the wedding, and waits for him in a negligée. Ralph, however, has been out with the boys and can only "stay a minute" before he rejoins them. On his way out he says to his disappointed, but now quite resigned, bride-to-be, "I'm fulla beer. Mind if I use ya terlet?"

A more subtle handling of similar themes is found in "A Really Good Jazz Piano", a story Yates revised over the course of several years; it stands as one of the masterpieces of this collection. The protagonists, Carson Wyler and Ken Platt, are Yale graduates whiling away their early twenties in Europe. As with many of Yates's more-memorable characters, they are both nuanced individuals and utterly recognizable types—young men who seem to share the somewhat shallow, liberal-minded assumptions of their class and time, but who turn out to be almost as different on the inside as out: "Carson was the handsome one, the one with the slim, witty face and the English-sounding accent; Ken was the fat one who laughed all the time and tagged along." As the story opens, Ken calls his friend from Cannes, where he has spent a desperately lonely month while Carson has stayed in Paris to pursue a Swedish art student. Hoping to coax Carson into joining him, Ken announces that he has discovered a first-rate jazz pianist in one of the seaside bars: "He's a friend of mine," Ken says, and Carson assumes the man is black—"mostly from the slight edge of self-consciousness or pride" in Ken's voice when he calls the man "a friend."

Carson goes to Cannes and Ken introduces him to his discovery, Sid, who is indeed black and a superb musician. Carson (who has "the ability to find and convey an unashamed enjoyment in trivial things") sponsors the pianist for membership in the International Bar Flies, which involves a ritual of brushing each other's lapels and saying, "Bzzz, bzzz!" Ken, meanwhile, basks in Carson's approval for having made such a rare find—a black musician who possesses "authentic integrity," as Ken puts it, who practices his art in obscurity rather than "selling out" to the commercial shoddiness of America. As it happens, though, Sid is all too eager to sell out, and the two friends are appalled to find him truckling to a vulgar agent named Murray Diamond. When Sid pauses during his performance to give Carson the Bar Flies greeting, the latter humiliates him in front of the agent by sarcastically touching his shoulder and saying, "Buzz … Does that take care of it?" Ken is stunned by his friend's cruelty; on the verge of attacking him in the street, he is stopped by the look on Carson's face—"haunted and vulnerable and terribly dependent, trying to smile, a look that said Please don't leave me alone." One is left with the impression that the feckless Ken will benefit far more from his Wanderjahr in Europe than his worldly friend.

Perhaps Yates's favorite subject is the depths to which people can deceive themselves into thinking they are somehow special, set apart from the herd. In his later fiction he would usually reserve his scrutiny for the arty strivers of the middle class, but in "A Wrestler with Sharks" and "Builders" he focuses on working-class people whose humble lot in life makes them all the more susceptible to illusions of grandeur. In the first story, a former sheet-metal worker with writerly pretensions, Leon Sobel, takes a job with a dismal trade-union tabloid called The Labor Leader. Yates sketches this character with a few deft strokes: "He was … a very small, tense man with black hair that seemed to explode from his skull and a humorless thin-lipped face…. His eyebrows were always in motion when he talked, and his eyes, not so much piercing as anxious to pierce, never left the eyes of the listener." The narrator, a clever young man named McCabe who considers his employment on the Leader as strictly temporary, regards Sobel with a kind of polite condescension as the man confides that he is already the author of nine unpublished books: "Novels, philosophy, political theory—the entire gamut," Sobel explains. "The trouble with my books is, they tell the truth. And the truth is a funny thing, McCabe. People wanna read it, but they only wanna read it when it comes from somebody they already know their name." Sobel is determined to make a name for himself by writing for the Leader, and after agonizing over paltry news items with such headlines as "PLUMBERS WIN 3cents PAY HIKE," he is rewarded with an offer to write a column of his own on "labor gossip." His first (and last) effort, however, is laughably pretentious; titled "SOBEL SPEAKING," and attached to "a small portrait of himself in a cloth hat," the column proclaims its author to be "an 'ink-stained veteran' of many battles on the field of ideas, to be exact nine books have emanated from his pen." The editor rejects the piece amid much ridicule in front of the staff, and Sobel promptly quits. McCabe, sorry for his hapless former colleague, calls Sobel at home that night to suggest a possible opening at an even more dismal trade journal, but Sobel's wife answers and curtly refuses the offer. Taken aback by the woman's obvious, dignified devotion to her husband, the chastened McCabe is left "to climb guilty and sweating out of the phone booth."

In an interview for Ploughshares (December 1972) Yates described the last story of the collection, "Builders," as a "direct autobiographical blowout" that was sufficiently "objectified" to work as good fiction, and which emboldened him to make similar use of such material throughout his career. The protagonist, Robert Prentice (who also appears in a less successful work, A Special Providence, is a struggling writer who is "clearly and nakedly" a portrait of the artist as a rather callow young man. The story evokes Yates's early career in the Village, when he continued to pattern his life after Hemingway's—they both had been to war, skipped college, worked for a newspaper, and married young—though Yates's apprentice fiction showed little evidence of Hemingwayesque precocity. As Prentice/Yates remarks in the story, "it wasn't any 'Up in Michigan' that came out of my machine; it wasn't any 'Three Day Blow,' or 'The Killers'; very often, in fact, it wasn't really anything at all…."

Prentice finally gets a break of sorts when he answers an ad placed by a middle-aged cabbie named Bernie Silver, who offers an "unusual freelance opportunity" to a writer with "imagination." The man proposes that Prentice ghostwrite a series of stories featuring a romanticized version of himself, Bernie Silver, as a heroic cabbie who changes the lives of his clients with bits of wise advice given in the nick of time. The "builders" metaphor reflects Bernie's approach to writing a well-made story; as he lectures Prentice, "Do you see where writing a story is building something too? Like building a house?… Before you build your walls you got to lay your foundation—and I mean all the way down the line." Finally, says Bernie, the most important aspect of the whole enterprise is the "windows": "Where does the light come in?… I mean the-the philosophy of your story; the truth of it…." Prentice, desperate for money, conceals his disdain for the humbling assignment and becomes an earnest "builder" of Bernie's pathetically self-aggrandizing fictions. With a craftsmanship that surprises no one so much as himself, he writes about a delinquent who is saved from a life of crime by Bernie's folksy ruminations "about healthy, clean-living, milk-and-sunshine topics," as well as a story about "a small, fragile old gentleman" who almost succumbs to lonely, suicidal despair, until Bernie convinces him that he should go live with his daughter in Michigan. Bernie is delighted with these efforts, but, predictably enough, the project goes nowhere, and the two eventually fall out over money. At the end Prentice looks back over his story and wonders whether he has built it according to Bernie's rigorous specifications; he then adds the "chimney top"—the fact that he and his wife divorced shortly after the episode in question. "And where are the windows?" he wonders. "God knows, Bernie; God knows there certainly ought to be a window around here somewhere, for all of us."

On the strength of his first two books Yates was invited in 1964 to teach at the prestigious Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. By most accounts, he was an excellent teacher. He had "an instinctive and profound acuity when it came to seeing the heart of a story," as his student DeWitt Henry puts it, though some speak more ambivalently of Yates's almost obsessive "hectoring about the precision of language." In any case Yates took his teaching duties seriously, and his dedication—coupled with his heavy drinking—interfered with work on his second novel, A Special Providence. When it was finally published in 1969, it was a failure both critically and financially; the book was never reprinted, though Yates later came to regard it as a good learning experience in the writing of properly objectified fiction. As he said in the Ploughshares interview, he "never did achieve enough fictional distance on the character of Robert Prentice," and thus failed to avoid "both of the two terrible traps that lie in the path of autobiographical fiction—self-pity and self-aggrandizement."

Yates's third novel, Disturbing the Peace (1975), took almost as much time to finish as his second, and by the early 1970s his drinking was worse than ever. He was constantly short of money, and in 1971 he was denied tenure at Iowa. For the rest of his life Yates would have a hard time finding new teaching appointments, as word of his alcoholism and precarious mental health was passed from one campus to the next. A manic-depressive, Yates tended to mix psychotropic drugs with alcohol during times of stress, which led to frequent breakdowns as he got older. His second marriage, to Martha Speer in 1968, was a casualty of his increasingly bizarre behavior, and in 1975 the couple divorced.

Always resilient in the practice of his craft, however, Yates's chaotic private life was ameliorated somewhat by several promising developments in his career. Disturbing the Peace was published the same year as his divorce, and helped to restore his reputation after the failure of his second novel. He was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters that enabled him to quit teaching for a few years and move back to New York, where he began work on what would prove to be one of his greatest novels, The Easter Parade (1976), which he finished in a miraculous (for Yates) eleven months. Reviews of the book were among the best Yates ever got: once again he was applauded as one of America's foremost realists, a true craftsman holding the line against the gathering tide of tricky postmodernism.

A Good School was published to respectful reviews in 1978, when Yates moved to Boston. He took a tiny, two-room apartment on Beacon Street, which his friend Andre Dubus remembers as a spar-tan testament to Yates's total devotion to his art: "It was a place that should be left intact when Dick moved, a place that young writers should go to, and sit in, and ask themselves whether or not their commitment to writing had enough heart to live, thirty years later, as Dick's did: with time as his only luxury, and absolute honesty one of his few rewards."

In 1981 Yates published his second story collection, Liars in Love, which was widely and admiringly reviewed amid somewhat meager sales. Most of the stories are unabashedly autobiographical; by the time they were written Yates's mother and sister had been dead for almost ten years, and he felt increasingly free to write candidly about his difficult family life as a child and young adult. Characters based on his mother had played prominent, rather unsympathetic roles in A Special Providence and The Easter Parade, but in the first and perhaps best story of this collection, "Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired", she is portrayed with more compassion as Yates's resentment seems to have been tempered over time. (It is worth noting, however, that his final portrait of his mother in Cold Springs Harbor is unflattering as ever, perhaps reflecting Yates's ultimate verdict on the woman; in any case, his daughter Monica claims that Yates felt he had finally "gotten her right" in that last novel.)

"Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired" is based on an actual incident wherein Yates's mother, in what would prove to be the biggest break of her dubious career, was given the opportunity to sculpt a bust of the newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. In the story Yates is quick to point out that she "wasn't a very good sculptor," and punctures the petty snobbery that lay behind her artistic aspirations: "Her idea was that any number of rich people, all of them gracious and aristocratic, would soon discover her: they would want her sculpture to decorate their landscaped gardens, and they would want to make her their friend for life." Meanwhile, the family lives in a gracious courtyard apartment, which they can scarcely afford, on Bedford Street in the Village, dominated by the mother's "high, wide, light-flooded studio." Her basic priorities are further suggested by "the roach-infested kitchen … barely big enough for a stove and sink that were never clean, and for a brown wooden icebox with its dark, ever-melting block of ice." The mother's best friend and pretentious alter ego is a woman named Sloane Cabot—a name she made up for herself "because it had a touch of class"—who works as a Wall Street secretary while she pursues her ambition of writing for the radio. Her meager talent and essential vulgarity are revealed by a mawkishly wishful script about an "enchanted circle of friends" who live around a courtyard in the Village, gamely enduring their genteel poverty as they await the artistic success that is just around the corner. The narrator remembers how he himself was described in the script as "a sad-eyed, seven-year-old philosopher" with a comical stutter, and reflects: "It was true that I stuttered badly … but I hadn't expected anyone to put it on the radio."

The mother withdraws her children from public school after they come home with lice in their hair, and arranges for them to be tutored at home by a poor Jewish violinist named Bart Kampen. The children are delighted: "Bart was probably our favorite among the adults around the courtyard. He was … young enough so that his ears could still turn red when he was teased by children; we had found that out in teasing him once or twice about such matters as that his socks didn't match." Kampen proves to be an excellent tutor, gentle and patient, but the arrangement comes to a disastrous end when the mother learns about an offhand remark he has made about "some rich, dumb, crazy woman" who has hired him to tutor her kids. The mother hears this gossip from a mutual acquaintance in Washington, D.C., where she has just presented her bust to the president amid a decided lack of fanfare; with insult added to the injury of an already crushing disappointment, the narrator imagines his mother's thoughts during the long train ride back to New York: "She was forty-one, an age when even romantics must admit that youth is gone, and she had nothing to show for the years but a studio crowded with green plaster statues that nobody would buy." The mother puts on a brave front for her children's benefit, pretending that her encounter with the president was a thrilling success, but then proceeds to nurse her grievance against Kampen with alcohol. Finally she confronts him with drunken bitterness: "All my life I've hated people who say 'Some of my best friends are Jews,'" she tells the startled Kampen. "Because none of my friends are Jews, or ever will be." The worst of his mother's nature thus revealed, the son lies in bed and ponders his family's entangled fate: "We would probably never see Bart again—or if we ever did, he would probably not want to see us. But our mother was ours; we were hers; and we lived with that knowledge as we lay listening for the faint, faint sound of millions."

"Regards at Home" is the story of how Yates eventually liberated himself from his mother some sixteen years later. Appearing as Bill Grove, he looks back at his postwar years in the Village, when his plans "to become a professional writer as soon as possible" were constantly waylaid by the obligation to care for his indigent, aging, hard-drinking mother. Though as a child Grove had "admired the way she made light of money troubles"—she stressed the romance of their poverty by reading Dickens to them in bed—he now begins to lose patience with the "childish and irresponsible" older woman who makes little effort to support herself and with whom he is forced to share his tiny apartment. After she threatens to complicate his life further by driving away the woman Grove intends to marry, he borrows some money from the bank and gives it to his mother: "I told her, in so many words, that she was on her own."

Grove's eagerness to free himself is contrasted with the filial piety of his friend and coworker, Dan Rosenthal, a talented artist who postpones his ambitions for the sake of a dependent family. For his part, Rosenthal envies the illusive freedom of Grove's life as a would-be writer living in the Village with a pretty wife—which in fact is anything but the idyllic "bohemian" affair that Rosenthal thinks it is: Grove's wife and he fight constantly, while the mother continues to be an obnoxious presence in their lives. Finally, when Grove wangles a veteran's pension to go abroad and pursue his writing career in earnest, he comes to realize his own good—if relatively selfish—fortune: "I had luck, time, opportunity, a young girl for a wife, and a child of my own." After a farewell party on the ship, Rosenthal advises him not to "piss it all away," and Grove hurries back to his cabin to "get my mother off the boat … and to take up the business of my life."

The title story of Liars in Love takes up where "Regards at Home" leaves off, with the Yates-like protagonist—here called Warren Mathews—living in London with his wife and two-year-old daughter. By now the daily ennui and cramped quarters of their tiny basement flat have combined to worsen the couple's differences until they can hardly even bring themselves to quarrel anymore; instead they pass the time in an atmosphere of tense civility as they try to avoid "getting in each other's way. 'Oh, sorry,' they would mutter after each clumsy little bump or jostle. 'Sorry….'" Presently the wife decides to return to the States with their daughter, and Warren spends his first night alone in the flat pathetically winding the crank of a cardboard music box that his daughter has left behind.

The story is one of Yates's most memorable studies of the effects of loneliness, the way it can warp a person's sense of reality. Warren's attempts to make some kind of human connection in London are forever thwarted by an inescapable feeling of alienation: "The very English language, as spoken by natives, bore so little relation to his own that there were far too many opportunities for missed points in every exchange. Nothing was clear." Desperate, Warren forces himself to pick up one of the prostitutes in Piccadilly Circus, and they return to the woman's shabby flat in northeast London; glad enough for the company, he tries "to keep an open mind" as the woman, Christine, tells well-practiced lies about her life as a prostitute and, later, about the baby whose crib occupies a conspicuous corner of the room.

Soon Warren's life is enmeshed with Christine's, which involves socializing with her fellow prostitutes as well as a jovial pimp named Alfred. At first, in true Yatesian fashion, he is able to accept the whole gloomy business with the help of some romantic self-flattery: "Nobody had to tell him what a triumph of masculinity it was to have a young whore offer herself to you free of charge. He didn't even need From Here to Eternity to tell him that…." Ultimately, though, it occurs to Warren that the woman is maneuvering him into marriage, in the hope of giving her baby a father, and he tries to disentangle himself. She responds with an angry warning that her pimp is out to get him, but when Warren learns that this is a lie—indeed, that almost everything the woman says is a lie—he is no longer intimidated: "She was only a dumb little London streetwalker, after all." Free at last, Warren reconciles with his wife and prepares to return to New York, anxious to leave an alien world and his youthful naiveté behind.

"Saying Goodbye to Sally" returns to the theme of the title story and, to some extent, the entire collection—the lies that people tell themselves in the hope of escaping loneliness. This time the Yates surrogate is named Jack Fields, a writer whose first novel took five years to write and "left him feeling reasonably proud but exhausted almost to the point of illness." Fields's book is a critical success but sells poorly, and he is reduced to doing hackwork and drinking heavily. Before long, however, he is saved by an offer to go to Hollywood and write a screenplay based on a much-admired novel—just as Yates was in 1962, when he adapted Styron's 1951 novel Lie Down in Darkness for the director John Frankenheimer. The latter appears in the story as Carl Oppenheimer, "a dramatic, explosive, determinedly tough-talking man of thirty-two," who bolsters his wunderkind status by acting the role of the blustery, hard-drinking "genius" while telling F. Scott Fitzgerald anecdotes for Fields's benefit.

Fields (who "had begun to see himself, not without a certain literary satisfaction, as a tragic figure") identifies strongly with Fitzgerald, all the more so when he begins to have an affair with a pretty Hollywood secretary in her mid thirties named Sally Baldwin. Fields views the woman as a Sheilah Graham substitute—the sort of throw-away romance that a great writer on the skids, à la Fitzgerald, might enjoy as he pulls himself together to write another masterpiece. Sally lives amid the garish opulence of a friend's house in Malibu, and soon Fields finds himself immersed in a nouveau-riche ménage only slightly more appealing than Warren Mathews's circle of prostitutes in "Liars in Love". Sally's housemate and fellow divorcée, Jill Jarvis, is a dim-witted vulgarian who neglects her young son while conducting a boozy affair with an oafish engineer named Cliff Myers. Finally, when Fields has seen enough, he determines to abandon Sally and her whole milieu in a way that leaves no hard feelings, taking her out for a last romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. He tries to play the role of the gracious, worldly charmer, but Sally is not appeased by his patronizing compliments about her dress, and makes a remark that suggests she has seen through his pretensions from the start: The dress, she says, "might be useful in helping me trap the next counterfeit F. Scott Fitzgerald who comes stumbling out to Movieland." In the end the two seem equally relieved to relinquish their latest illusions and get on with their lives.

Following the critical success of Liars in Love, Yates spent the next three years working on his most ambitious novel since Revolutionary Road. Indeed, Young Hearts Crying (1984) resembled his first novel almost too closely: it, too, was the story of a promising young couple who are gradually chastened by the world, who try to transcend the sterility of their middle-class lives with artistic achievement that never quite materializes. Critics made much of the similarity between the two books, and tended to note the relative inferiority of Young Hearts Crying as evidence of Yates's faltering skills: some pointed out that the novel lacked the taut craftsmanship of Revolutionary Road, while its protagonists almost amounted to parodies of the brilliantly conceived Frank and April Wheeler. Yates was especially upset by Anatole Broyard's review in The New York Times Book Review (28 October 1984), the gist of which is suggested by its derisive headline, "Two-Fisted Self-Pity". Yates and Broyard had been friends in the Village during the 1960s, and Yates saw the review as an act of betrayal.

By the mid 1980s Yates's financial situation was desperate: his books almost invariably failed to earn back their advances, a situation his publisher had been willing to tolerate because of the prestige of his name. But in recent years Yates had begun borrowing against future advances, until all parties concerned were thoroughly fed up. "Can you imagine how I feel," his agent Mitch Douglas wrote in an exasperated letter to Yates's publisher, Jackie Farber, "when Richard Yates tells me that he has lost fifteen pounds and looks like a concentration camp victim because he has had to survive the past few weeks on two eggs mixed in a glass of milk, and that he was going to have to go back in the hospital simply to have food to eat?" After the commercial failure of his last novel, Cold Springs Harbor, Yates moved to Los Angeles, where a former student, David Milch, offered him work writing treatments for television pilots. Though he affected to be grateful, Yates resented the flamboyant Milch, a successful television producer who apparently made little effort to conceal his role as patron and rescuer. For almost three years Yates failed to produce a salable treatment, and finally Milch ended their arrangement in 1989.

Yates's writing came to his rescue one last time. On the strength of his work in progress—a novel titled Uncertain Times, based on his experience as Robert Kennedy's speechwriter in 1963—his publisher offered Yates a two-book contract with an advance on signing and thirty-three equal monthly payments. The next year Yates accepted a one-year appointment to teach at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He tried heroically to attend to his teaching and get some writing done, but by then he had emphysema and could not breathe without an oxygen tank. He felt alert enough to write for only an hour or so a day, which was hardly enough for a man who typically took that long to adjust the wording of a single sentence. Finally, in November 1992, Yates traveled to the Birmingham VA hospital for minor surgery on a hernia, where he died of suffocation shortly after the operation.

"He drank too much, he smoked too much, he was accident-prone, he led an itinerant life, but as a writer he was all in place," said Seymour Lawrence, "He wrote the best dialogue since John O'Hara, and like O'Hara he was a master of realism, totally attuned to the nuances of American behavior and speech." This statement is an accurate assessment of Yates's achievement, and it is a pity that his excellent work is now in danger of being forgotten; one would like to remind the literate reading public that a body of superb books awaits their discovery, and that a singular man overcame drastic odds to write them. As Jayne Anne Phillips noted, perhaps a bit too hopefully, "Yates prevailed beyond his own lifetime, just as he intended. His work stands for him, essentially American, unassailable, triumphant."

Source: Blake Bailey, "Richard Yates," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 234, American Short-Story Writers Since World War II, Third Series, edited by Patrick Meanor and Richard E. Lee, The Gale Group, 2001, pp. 295-304.


"The Best Books of 2001," in Esquire, December 2001, p. 34.

De Falbe, John, "Grace Still under Pressure," in Spectator, January 2002, pp. 36-37.

DeZelar-Tiedman, Christine, Review of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, in Library Journal, March 15, 2001, p. 1230.

Hooper, Brad, Review of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, in Booklist, March 1, 2001, p. 110.

Yates, Richard, "The Canal," in The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, Holt, 2001, pp. 367-79.

Further Reading

Bailey, Blake, A Tragic Honesty: The Life of Richard Yates, Methuen Publishing, 2004.

As of 2006, this work is considered the definitive biography of Yates, written by a man who is a preeminent Yates scholar.

Castronovo, David, and Steven Goldleaf, Richard Yates, Twayne Publishers, 1996.

A scholarly review of Yates's work, this survey of criticism was published after the author's death but before the publication of The Collected Stories helped to rejuvenate his neglected reputation.

Simon, Linda, "Twenty-Seven Kinds of Loneliness: The Short Fiction of Richard Yates," in World and I, Vol. 16, No. 12, December 2001, pp. 239-44.

Ostensibly a review of the Collected Stories, this long essay contains a good overview of Yates's work and the esteem in which he is held.

Yates, Richard, "Excerpts from the Correspondence of Richard Yates and Barbara Singleton Beury, September 1960–November 1961," in Harvard Review, No. 25, Fall 2003, pp. 64-77.

This series of letters written in the early sixties shows Yates at his most charming and infuriatingly nonsensical. His triumphant novel, Revolutionary Road, had just been published, and he was drinking heavily and driving himself toward a nervous breakdown that would send him to the Men's Violence Ward at Bellevue Hospital.