Review: ‘Richard Yates’, by Tao Lin

Richard YatesRichard Yates by Tao Lin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I can say without sarcasm or irony or shame it assuaged me existentially. I feel like I admire a certain kind of commitment / effort required to write and read a book like this, and this has nothing to do with ‘tedium’ unless you’re not paying attention, but that’s okay, most people don’t, and it has nothing to do with being a good or bad person or a smart or dumb person (okay, sometimes), it’s just how people are. Art is hard, interacting with art is hard, finding art that is ready to interact with you as an individual is perhaps the hardest part.

I really enjoyed the relationship dynamic at the center of the book. I think it’s confusing and perhaps funny how many people seem to dislike this book because the HJO character doesn’t seem to often be a great person to be in a relationship with, as if the book isn’t fictional, and even to whatever degree it might not be, how does that reflect on the book? That itself is an interesting thing to think about, so I guess now I’m glad some people think that way, even if I think those people are stupid (though I don’t, but still do, which is why I’m confused).

What I enjoyed most about the relationship in the book is the confusion the HJO character feels when the DF character expresses cognitive dissonance daily in how she proceeds with her life, such as wanting to lose weight and be healthy while she is bulimic. The HJO character frequently gets upset and seems genuinely confused by this, as to why someone would say they want something or to act a certain way while never acting that way or doing what they need to be doing to enact certain outcomes in their life. This is something I personally connect with and find myself often doing. My personal feeling is along the lines of ‘It often gets more complicated than that’ but that just might be an excuse. I’m really intrigued that the HJO character seems to never ‘suffer’ from this; I’m curious if he really doesn’t or the book is written in such a way that it only seems that he doesn’t. My being intrigued by this is sort of stupid, though, as I’m interested in how he engages in the world this way if he really does, but if he really does it’s not the result of any disciplined worldview (like I wish it were, so I could adopt it) but simply how he ‘is’. This makes me wonder if this is still a worldview and daily practice that can be achieved by discipline and repetition, or if you have to be wired that way. This is the struggle that drives the relationship via conflict and resolution, and with it the novel. I’m interested in the disproportionate ratio of intense scrutiny on the behavior of the DF character, it shows some kind of abstract bias in the narrating entity. Again I’m glad for the extreme show/tell ratio–the fact that so little in the writer/reader relationship is dictated in this way creates a true sense of accessibility.

I’m curious about people who have problems with the style of the book, because it seems authentically stream-of-consciousness to me in a way (or rather stream-of-existence?), it feels like a good approximation of how life proceeds, so if people don’t enjoy the style of the book how do they go about their lives? It also seems that this book abides by the cliche rule of fiction to show and not to tell (just because it is cliche does not mean I think it’s wrong), this book shows everything and tells essentially nothing. Like anything else, especially in art, there’s as much meaning and enjoyment as is generated by your interaction with the book.

I mean, is it true that a novel I’ve never read has literally zero meaning to me because I’ve never read it? If you read this book it has meaning to you, I think ‘meaning’ or ‘making sense’ etc. are lazy, ambiguous, useless terms. I think talking in detail about the degree and type of meaning you do or do not find in a book or piece of art is way more interesting.

I don’t know why I’ve become so interested by the people who say things about this book when they didn’t like it. I just looked at the Goodreads profile of one of them and one of her interests is ‘cheese’, so I thought ‘Cheese beast. That is apropos, but only to me in this instance for maybe 15 seconds.’ This doesn’t make her a bad person, though.

I’m glad to have read this book and glad Melville House is putting this out. I thought that it could have easily been that this book might never have existed and genuinely felt intensely worried/sad/something, but that’s a strange way to think about anything.

View all my reviews

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