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May 25, 2012

Unmerciful Yates

by gfsnell3

One of Americas most under appreciated writers – at least by readers – is Richard Yates.  None of his novels were ever best sellers and, in fact, none of them sold more than a few thousands copies during his lifetime.

But he was published despite the sorry state of his sales (likely not possible in this day and age).

The reason?

Yates can write.  Take this passage from his 1965 novel “A Special Providence”:

“And it must have been in the same square that he watched two litter bearers come trotting in perfect rhythmic unison through the rubble, using their legs with the skill and delicacy of dancers so that their upper bodies wouldn’t jog the load: from the waist up they could have been men on bicycles.  The man on their stretcher rode as smoothly as if he were in a hospital bed, and Prentice thought with envy of how dreamlike and sweet it must be to be borne that way, floating horizontally away to rest and peace and care.

In the middle of the square the bearers came to a halt and eased the stretcher gently to the ground.  They rested for a few seconds, standing wide-legged with their hands on their knees, like winded athletes.  Then still moving as one, they squatted to take up their load again; but almost as soon as they’d raised it they set it carefully down, and both of them crouched over the wounded man, tenderly lifting his blanket to feel and scrutinize him.

And then, with a terrible abruptness, they tore off the blanket, tipped the stretcher high on its side, and sent the man rolling hideously out into the slush.  They didn’t even look down at him as they turned and ran, heading back to wherever they’d come from, one of them hauling the collapsed stretcher on his shoulder and the other humping along at his side.  All their unanimity and grace was gone: they ran with the heavy-footed clumsiness of exhausted laborers.”

Try to find a passage that so encapsulates the humanity and the horrors of war more effectively, more vividly than this one.  You’d be hard pressed to find it.



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