Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness - Richard Yates

More about Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

Title: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness
Author: Richard Yates
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
Publisher: Vintage 2008
Length: 221 pages

Short Stories Included:
Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern
The Best of Everything

Jody Rolled the Bones

No Pain Whatsoever

A Glutton for Punishment

A Wrestler with Sharks

Fun with a Stranger

The B.A.R. Man

A Really Good Jazz Piano

Out with the Old


If you are not familiar with the name Richard Yates, I am sure you know of his first novel Revolutionary Road which was adapted into a popular movie in 2008. The movie was nominated for 3 Oscar awards.

This book contains 11 short stories in which Richard Yates explored various forms of "loneliness" that can be found in marriage, friendship or workplace. I have to say that Yates has an ingenious crafting skill. His stories are extremely well-written and leave no room for even the tiny bit of disappointment.

More often than not, the success of a story is not dependent on the story itself but rather on the characters in the story. Characters are hard to develop, and sometimes they take pages and pages of building before the readers fall in love with them. To a short story writer, this task is even more challenging. How do you make your readers like your characters in just a few pages? I am not exaggerating when I say Yates is the master of short stories because, to my surprise, he wasted no words at defining and building his characters who, in most cases, are outcasts, loners or people who are simply unable to connect with another person. With precise and powerful depiction, Yates skillfully showcased their innermost raw emotions which readers can easily relate to, thus making these characters less pathetic but more lovable.

Yates reminds me a lot of Fitzgerald in the way where Yates' stories are also quite grim and often filled with a sense of lost identity and an inner-struggle to connect with the outside world. However, Yates' writing is much more emotional and sarcastic, which adds a bit of an edge to his style.

I always feel that short stories is where writers reveal the most about themselves. After 11 stories, it is not hard to see that Yates is not a believer in marriage. He is rather a pessimist when it comes to love, frequently alluding to the fact that marriage is what kills passion. He even wrote a rather melancholy story about love starting to change in the most subtle ways just two days before a young couple's wedding day. It is not a surprise when I flipped to the first page and read in his biography that he was divorced twice in his lifetime.

My personal favorite is the 4th story No Pain Whatsoever, in which Yates described a young woman riding a friend's car to visit her husband who was checked into the TB ward of a hospital. The story was quite flat and uneventful until we almost approached the end when the woman finished yet another dull visit where she barely conversed with her sick husband. She came out and stood in front of the hospital, in the freezing cold weather of Christmastime, and cried quietly. Yates never mentioned what she was crying for, but it was exactly this kind of crafting that subtly touched the hearts of many.

I am definitely putting Revolutionary Road back on the reading list, and I'm definitely a fan of Richard Yates now.

Have you read any short story collection lately? What are your thoughts?


  1. I agree that short stories show the real talent of a writer. I just entered a short-story contest. Keep your fingers crossed :)

    I absolutely adored Revolutionary Roads and blogged about it, even wrote a paper for college (and aced it :) An amazing book. No wonder Yates is so miser toward marriages-he divorced twice.

  2. Good luck on your contest Ivana! Any chance we get to read your story on your blog? =)