Richard Yates’s Cold Spring Harbor details the stresses and tensions of living as a young couple, Evan and Rachel Shephard, in New York in the 1940’s. After a chance meeting in lower Manhattan, they were rapidly drawn together into romance and eventually marriage. Evan and Rachel may not be perfectly matched, but then none of us are. However, Evan has a troubled past, has been married and divorced, and has a daughter already while sweet Rachel is somewhat child-like while constantly passing through life with her head in the clouds.
Complicating matters for Evan and Rachel are Rachel’s mother and her brother, Phil, as well as Evan’s parents, Charles and Gloria. It would be surprising if Richard Yates were to tell us a happy story but Yates doesn’t do happy. Despite the beleaguered and bleak setting in the lives of the characters, Yates writing shines through as always with great clarity and crispness. The read can be emotionally draining but Yates’s writing and his development of the story and characters make this a joy to read even though by its end a bitter taste remains.
This is the last of Yates’s novels written, originally published in 1986, about eight years before Yates’s death. While many say it is not his best work, others rally behind Yates as one of our great writers of the 20th century.
Of note and interest is the dedication to Kurt Vonnegut with whom Yates was friends.
In my humble opinion, I enjoyed Revolutionary Road, another of Yates’s works, much more than this one. I would recommend not starting your reading with Cold Spring Harbor but with Revolutionary Road, or one of his earlier novels.