annotation by Neal Bonser
One of my favorite complements a music writer ever gave my band went something like this: “All of these songs felt as if they already existed and they were just waiting for the right band to come along and discover them.”
That’s what Yates’s prose is like. The sentences already existed in a completely natural state, and Yates just came along and unearthed them, found them in some magic box buried in Iowa or Boston or wherever he was at the time. His biography clearly indicates the exact opposite. He tortured himself for these sentences and didn’t even think much of them once they were written. (I read in something online that he thought Easter Parade “too slight” or something like that to be of consequence. Why do we writers do this to ourselves? And I’m feeling undeserving to be putting myself in Yates’s category right about now.)
The cumulative result of these sentences is that the story unfolds just as naturally as the sentences. There’s no questioning a plot turn. No questioning a gap in time, why some events are dramatized and some are summarized. The storytelling quality of the novel is so right on the money. It just feels correct. Unquestionable.
I usually try to read novels with an eye out for how I can learn and improve my own writing by reading this work. Reading Yates reminds me of watching a guitar player who is so much better than me that I’m not even sure what he’s doing. Most guitar players I watch and say, “Okay, that was cool. Interesting choice. Maybe I should try that.” But some are just so innovative that I’m just baffled and learn nothing.
Yates is not innovative. He works in the milieu of realist fiction. He’s not flashy. But whatever the truth is behind its creation, his prose feels effortless. My prose is like wringing blood out of a wash cloth that I just used to staunch the blood flow from my forehead. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic.
I think what I can learn from The Easter Parade comes from Yates’s biography. Writing was torture for him just like the rest of us. He had the doubts. But look at what he created. Not much craft analysis going on here, but I somehow come away from this rather depressing novel encouraged and wanting to make more of my own writing. Sentence by sentence.