Richard Yates, who was born 1926 in Yonkers, New York and died 1992 in Birmingham, Alabama, seemed to be a writer who described his own career by the titles of his books. Firstly not recognized as an artist of high quality, his narratives and prose fiction became suddenly highly appreciated, to be forgotten later on and rediscovered decades later. His novel Disturbing the Piece, edited in 1975, belongs to the hallmarks of the mentioned titles with a more than mono-thematic sense. After Revolutionary Road (1961), which gave Yates a lot of attention, he was almost forgotten in the seventies and he indeed disturbed the piece of a society already rattled by a cultural revolution but still hold in its social grid irons. Only in the last decades some kind of renaissance came up, caused by the shaken consciousness of a middle class in deep turmoil.
Disturbing the Peace, acting in New York and later Hollywood in the sixties is referring to the upcoming unease of members of the lower middle class, living in standardized suburbs, earning enough money to participate in the progress of society but working in jobs which spend money but no sense at all. The protagonist, John Wilder, employed in advertisement, married to a nice woman and father of a son, shapes his rebellion by alcohol abuse. In one of these cases he ends up in New York Bellevue psychiatric hospital where he faces the possible consequences of his escapades. Deeply traumatized by the treatment there, he starts visiting doctors and joining meetings of the AA. Nonetheless it does not stop him drinking too much. During a business encounter he meets a nice young girl, wealthy by birth and 16 years younger. The affair brings her to the idea to make a movie about of Wilders experience at Bellevue. During the production Wilder has a breakdown.
After he is released and back in New York the young girl leaves him because she is going with a ghost writer of Robert Kennedy (which was a step in the real career of Richard Yates!) to Washington. Wilder is disappointed but re-establishes his marriage and continues to drink heavily until the girl comes back and tells him that she quit the relation to the writer, met her father who is rich and who gave her all the money they want to produce the movie in Hollywood. Wilder quits his job and leaves his family to go with the girl to Hollywood where they have a good start with an agent but where his alcohol abuse is facing a new dimension. The girl leaves him finally and he ends up in California psychiatry where he will never be released again.
The most indicating thesis behind the narrative structure seems to have more than one message. Firstly the shape of the existence of middle class has a deep contradiction in itself: It can deliver a better kind of living in a material way, but lacks in giving more sense. Secondly revolting in using drugs is a lethal illusion. And finally society is closing you up in a madhouse if you do not accept the rules of social piece and convention. If one wants to get an authentic impression of the roaring seventieth in western civilization the book will be a magnificent choice.