Overlapped in the 1960s at the MacDowell Colony with Richard Yates, author of Revolutionary Road. In The New Yorker, Dec. 15, 2008, there’s a feature on Yates and new movie based on novel… with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. That prompts this blog…
James Wood’s feature, “Like Men Betrayed,” suggests that Yates’ “stories and novels return repeatedly to the weakness and hysterical anxiety of mid-century American masculinity. His fiction, begun in the early fifties… was closely shadowed by the Second World War. For Yates, that war seems to have functioned a little like an impossibly stern father: no performance would ever suffice. If you fought in it, you never fought bravely enough… if you missed it, the rest of your life would be perforated with inadequacies.”
Somehow reading this I can’t help thinking of my own feelings prior to enlisting in 1950, age 17, in the U.S. Navy and requesting duty in the combat zone in Korea. I was too young to serve during World War Two, but felt compelled, as soon as I came of age, to go overseas… not to “miss out…”
I came out of the Navy with as many feelings of inadequacies as I had when I went in. Volunteered to go overseas, served in the combat zone, but the Korean “Police Action” turned out to be more a ground war than I’d expected and I judged myself negatively for being relieved that I’d chosen “soft” duty and thus avoided really being tested.
In 1953 I attended college with the G.I. Bill, but felt I wasn’t a real veteran, not the way the World War Two vets were. It’s sometimes called the Forgotten War. Once, home on leave, age 18, I asked my Chicago-based podiatrist father, “What do people think about the Korean War?” He grinned. Then he looked baffled. From his expression it was clear, they didn’t talk or think about it at all.
And yet at the time there seemed to be no other choice. And the truth is I’m glad I did it. Stupid and lucky, stupid and lucky… to come out of it alive. Feelings of inadequacies? Absolutely. As The New Yorker article suggests, “…no performance would ever suffice. If you fought in it, you never fought bravely enough… if you missed it, the rest of your life would be perforated with inadequacies.” For a male, at least, there’s always that question of bravery.