Disturbing the Peace by Richard Yates

The three paths he takes to ease his pain: therapy, adultery and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Book Review by Graeme Allister | 10 Feb 2007
Book title: Disturbing the Peace
Author: Richard Yates
Richard Yates suffered the same curious fate as Orson Welles, starting at the top and working his way down. Yates's Citizen Kane was Revolutionary Road, a muffled desperate cry from the suburbs which said as much about America in the 1960s as The Great Gatsby did about the 20s. By the time of Yates' alcohol-fuelled death in 1992, all nine of his books were out of print, his name barely a footnote in the canon of 20th century literature. This century looks like it might be kinder to him. The New Yorker finally published one of his stories in 2001 having faithfully rejected every word he sent them. And publishers Methuen are repackaging many of his novels bolstered by glittering recommendations from authors as diverse as Kurt Vonnegut, Nick Hornby and Richard Ford. The latest reissue is Disturbing the Peace, written halfway through Yates' career and examining his familiar theme of the apparent hopelessness festering just below the surface of a comfortable existence. In this book the comfortable existence doesn't even last to the end of the first chapter; by then the protagonist, John Wilder, has had a nervous breakdown. The remainder of the book tracks his attempts to regain his life, and the three paths he takes to ease his pain: therapy, adultery and Alcoholics Anonynmous. Spanning the 1960s, the book tracks Wilder's moments of extreme clarity, the chances of redeeming himself and the numerous relapses, his meandering made all the more searing for the parallels with Yates's life.
Out Now. Published by Methuen. Cover Price £7.99 paperback.