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Monday, September 17, 2012

"A Good School", sad learnings from high school

A Good School- Richard Yates

It already happened to me when I read, then reviewed "A Special Providence". The emotion of having another book from master Richard Yates, being engaged by it while devouring it, and once the times come for the analysis, finding it a minor piece from the author.

Being honest, I'm pretty sure that sort of (minor) let down is the consequence of Yates being responsible of two undeniable masterpieces of modern contemporary literature: "Revolutionary Road" and "The Easter Parade". "A Good School" cannot compare with these two amazing novels. But still, we are in front of another very solid work, and of course, really recommendable.

Yet another factor in these aforementioned let down could be the lack of originality on the premise and development of the novel. How many remarkable books have been constrained into the walls of boarding schools? Salinger and Tobias Wolff to name just two unmissable authors. But that judgement would be a bit unfair. Yates, as expected from such a unique writer is capable of transmitting something completely personal to the book: a genuine sadness. In my imaginary world of music and literary connections, The National composed "Sorrow" for Richard Yates. 

From the very beginning, the reader will have the feeling student William Grove is some sort of Yates' alter ego, something that is almost confirmed at the end of the novel. And from page one, the chronicle of the high school years at the Dorset Academy are marked by sadness. Despite II World War has a direct effect on the students, wouldn't say this is a dramatic book, because Yates style, always using the perfect sentence, without wasting words and letting the reader "fill the gaps", avoids digressions and unnecessary floridnesses. No, the sadness I'm referring its primarily intrinsic to the characters, to the Academy as a whole. 

Yates gives space to various stories to evolve within the novel. Professors trapped into their damaged bodies and hearts, kids that doesn't seem to fit anywhere else, aspirations that are truncated or were just impossible, and the threat of constant failure, finally becoming a reality for the institution. The Dorset Academy is an isolated microcosms, that for a while seems completely separated from real world. But this will hit the place hard in the end, mercilessly. William Grove's story there is one of frustration and lost until he finds his own place: the school newspaper. But this is not a heroic tale of growing up, our leading character finally manages to surface and find his own way almost alone, almost creating a world of his own, full of deadlines and writings, inside of the Dorset small universe.

I can't clearly point out what's lacking on "A Good Novel". The stories seem to converge one final tragedy, that Yates solves again with an incredible, clinical precision, taking benefit of the journalistic sub-plot of the book, and then ends. My guess is that he just wanted to capture a glimpse of, a slice of life, teenage years that abruptly ended, forced by major circumstances and a fated destiny. Or maybe he was just trying to look back to those formation years without any anger or desolation. As I said, recommendable as everything Yates wrote, but far from his masterpieces.

SCORE: 6,75/10 

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