Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lessons in Life

A Good School
A Good School 

"'Dorset?' the man would say. 'Don't think I've ever heard of that one.'
And I can see my father starting to turn away then, concluding the pleasantries, lookin tired. He wasn't old that summer -- he was fifty-five -- but within eighteen months he would be dead.  'Well,' he would say, "as a matter of fact I'd never heard of it either, but it's -- you know -- it's supposed to be a good school.'" (p 8)

When I reviewed Richard Yates' novel Revolutionary Road I wrote that it was "a perfectly-written book" and "a modern classic in the true sense of the word." In his novel A Good School, published seventeen years later, I found a classic of a different sort in that I believe in this later work he captured a certain spirit of place and time perfectly. Even though the book did not seem to me as being perfect in writing style, the economy of Yates' prose still impressed me. Even more striking was his ability to convey the feeling of a certain time in the lives of a few representative boys while, at the same time, creating a pervasive feeling of an historic setting and place. The description of the school made clear it was unique among the prep schools of New England and that the small select group of boys that called it their home were just as unique in their own way. The awkward and nervous boy who becomes editor of the school newspaper is just one example of the different students that shared their school years at this good, if not unflawed, school. The awakening of character and the changes in the boys lives seemed to lead inexorably to an ending that made this novel and the titular school memorable.
Yates presented vignettes about the boys' social interactions, some of which seem mundane, but which cumulatively demonstrate the growth and change in their young lives. The drama of the real world with World War II always in the shadows is always impinging on the action and sometimes bursts in to interrupt. Thus the small world of the Dorset School seems to be sheltered from the world without until events of the world around it overwhelm the adolescent angst within it.
The result of reading this novel is to remind me that I must read more of Yates oeuvre as the experience is exhilarating.

A Good School by Richard Yates.  Picador, New York. 1978


Parrish Lantern said...

This sounds like a good coming of age novel,with the war in the background, with the name the Dorset school i thought that it was set in England, but i'm guessing that's wrong & it's in America

James said...

This is a depiction of a New England prep school (in some respects a typical one in spite of efforts by the narrator to emphasize its unique characteristics). It is one of the autobiographical elements in the novel since Richard Yates attended a similar school in the early nineteen-forties.