Book - A Good School

Richard Yates - 2007
Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9780099518587
A Good School
£2.30 + p&p.

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A Good School by Richard Yates

Richard Yates is one of the few truly great masters of 20th century fiction. His novels and short stories are populated with people who fiercely strive for what is just beyond their grasp, and who must - often quite painfully - suffer the consequences of their hopes and ambitions. The beauty of watching as these lives savagely unfold is the compassion Yates so delicately weaves into his depictions. First we feel a kind of condescending pity for these characters, then we find we are overwhelmed with their plight and their grief. And then finally the line between fiction and reality blurs, and we realize that these characters are not merely so much like us, they are us - with their denial and their fantasy and their unfounded hope in the future - and we grieve for them as we grieve for ourselves.
His short coming-of-age "A Good School" is something of a departure from the typical Yatesian heartbreak and squalor. In fact, the tone here, despite some shockingly grim and disturbing moments, is mostly upbeat. We follow the adolescent adventures of a boy named William Grove, a man with no real father figure (his parents are divorced) who tries to make a man out of himself after he is shipped to a boarding school designed for "individual" children who don't fit in elsewhere. Left to his own devices, without any real encouragement from the school or at home, and after several difficult missteps that nearly cement him as a permanent outcast, Grove slowly and unknowingly begins to make a name for himself by throwing himself into the only small door he is ever offered - the offices of the school paper.
The cast of the book is rounded out by in intriguing hodge-podge of boarding school characters, equally flailing around in their quest to become men. Even though their stories are unfolding off to the side, Yates somehow manages to tell each of their stories with a richness and intensity that belies their sparseness.
This is ground that has been covered before. One cannot help but think of other prep school novels (like Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and Hesse's "Beneath the Wheel") but even in familiar territory, Yates stakes out a claim all his own. This is a short, spare book filled with dozens of stories that build and develop throughout the novel. Old Yates fans will be pleased with this surprising detour into the world of adolescence, the unusual lightness of his tone, and the freshness of his view from this familiar literary perch.