A Good School

By Richard Yates

Yates does despair and middle class angst beautifully. It's what draws me to him over and over again. 3 Yates novels in the last 3 months is testimony to that.

A Good School is a bit of an anomaly in this regard. There are glimpses of his trademark 'life is a bitch' feeling but this is a coming-of-age novel that does not have a bad ending.

Dorset Academy is 'A Good School'. It is a prep school that is not very well known, built by an eccentric old lady and which takes in boys that other prep schools often do not. William Grove is one of them. With divorced parents (a mother who thought herself an artist and a salesman father who spends his entire life providing for his ex-wife and kids), Grove enters Dorset a clumsy, nervous, unpopular teenager but leaves it with some measure of confidence and hope for the future. On the way, we meet other boys - boys with reading problems, with psychiatric problems, bullies, some brilliant, some dumb. And there are growing up pains always - fears about fitting in, about sexuality, about girls. There is also the war in the near future, always at the back of the boys' heads... tantalising in some respects, scary in others. And then there are the teachers, each with his own set of unnameable fears and issues - wives having affairs, sons in the school with problems, daughters whose boyfriends go off to war and get killed.

Grove eventually leaves school as editor of the school magazine, an effort that polishes his writing skills and prepares him for a career in the real world, even though it might have affected his math and French grades badly. He finds his place in the world, as most people most often do.

It is a growing-up story. And as usual, Yates tells it well.


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