I very much admire Richard Yates’ work. Young Hearts Crying, published in 1984, is his penultimate novel, published eight years before his death. The New Statesman describes his work as follows: ‘Bad couples, sad, sour marriages, young hopes corroded by suburban life’.
Here, Yates presents not just a married couple or a family to us, but a whole community; we are given a feel for how intrinsically individuals fit into a particular place or setting. The protagonists of the piece, regardless, are a young married couple named Michael and Lucy Davenport. The pair are very much in love at the beginning of the novel, yet cracks soon begin to appear within their marriage. When Young Hearts Crying begins, Michael is a new Harvard graduate, who wants desperately to become a poet. Rather than live upon Lucy’s sizeable trust fund, he is determined to make a living by himself; when he gets a job which he is not entirely satisfied with in New York, his friends and acquaintances begin to syphon off, doing bigger and better things.
As protagonists, Michael and Lucy are both well built. Whilst Michael is not at all likeable (I would go as far to say that he is actually moderately awful in most of his thoughts and behaviour), Lucy is; the balance struck between the pair, augmented by their small daughter Laura, is pitch perfect. One of Yates’ definite strengths here is the way in which he encompasses secondary characters from all walks of life, from the privileged to the poverty-stricken. Young Hearts Crying is not overly heavy in its plot, and whilst one is able to guess what is going to happen as the story moves forward without any great effort, these elements do not make it any less compelling.
I always say this of Yates, but he is an incredibly aware and perceptive author. Young Hearts Crying is so well written, and whilst it is not his strongest novel, it is a great, striking and relatively easy read nonetheless.