WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Mystery awesome passage identified

YATESThe book is Revolutionary Road, and the author is Richard Yates. You might have seen the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. A pretty faithful rendition.

There were comments about how verbose or wordy the writing was, and I would just defend the piece by saying that, in context anyway, the rhythm of the paragraph is perfect. The character whose intelligence this part is filtered through is a young executive who is about to change his life by moving to France with his wife and kissing goodbye the life he senses is inauthentic. (A lot of those Mad Men types seem to realize deep down they’re big frauds.) But here the narrative describes what he’s doing but also what he thinks he should be doing — if he’s really a man. So Yates has created a wonderful distance between the character and what the character’s idea of himself is, or ought to be. He’s there on the train acting like a man (in his eyes) would act, yet he is not really that man.

The long sentences and their forging rhythm suggest movement, almost out of control as the train speeds along, but there’s also the image of the man striking a strong, defiant pose — a meaningless one. Inauthentic. And one that nobody notices but himself.

We get the feeling, thanks to the distance Yates has provided, that this guy is empty.

That’s why I like it.

Here’s Yates’s wiki page. He didn’t get enough recognition in his own day, even though guys like Kurt Vonnegut called Revolutionary Road “one of the best books by a member of my generation.”

Interestingly, Yates was the model for Elaine’s father in the Seinfeld episode, “The Jacket.” Seems Larry David went out with Yates’s daughter at some point. Yates intimidated him, you’d have to conclude.

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10 comments on “Mystery awesome passage identified

  1. ericjbaker
    March 13, 2014

    I suppose I could have read this before I left my previous comment.

    Re: Alleged verbosity. Not that I’m saying anything new or surprising, but literary fiction requires a stronger mental investment than commercial fiction. I read both, but for me, lit fic requires a specific mood to get the proper reward from my reading investment. As a writer, I admire the artistry of that passage, and the rhythm and humanity of it. It recalls Steinbeck and Dickens in that way, as good lit fic often does. I also think passages like that need to be broken up by brisk dialog and lots of one-line paragraphs. I love Peter Paul Rubens paintings, but an entire art museum full of lush, epic paintings measured in feet rather than inches would render the viewing experience ponderous after a while.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2014

      Now that I think of it, the paragraph would be much better condensed to: “He had a cigarette on the train home.”

      • ericjbaker
        March 13, 2014

        Too active. How about “Within the train car, a cigarette was smoked by him.”

  2. Dave
    March 13, 2014

    LOL. That’s all I can say …

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2014

      Never heard of him, eh? 😉

      • Dave
        March 13, 2014

        Nope. But I was laughing at the conversation between you and Eric. 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 13, 2014

        Ah! You want to add your own version of the ‘graph? lol

  3. 1WriteWay
    March 14, 2014

    I haven’t read the novel, but I do think the one paragraph is beautiful. It is like a painting, and I also like the sense of motion. I do think good lit fiction has a poetic quality to it that, for me anyway, don’t make paragraphs such as the one in your example seem long in a negative sense. You could lay out the phrases, one on top of the other, and have a poem.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 14, 2014

      It’s especially effective when all the surrounding paragraphs aren’t as rich. Things build to this point, then taper off so it can linger in your mind. Hot stuff!

      • 1WriteWay
        March 14, 2014

        Indeed! Thanks for sharing. Also, thanks for mentioning that the film was faithful to the novel. I did enjoy the film.

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2014 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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