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[179] Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates

yates“Sort of. I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere, as far ahead of me as the seniors at Rye when I was in sixth grade; people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a best job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind…that I’d been meant to be one of them all along, and everything in the meantime had been a mistake…” [272]

It’s 1955 in suburban Connecticut; the country poised at the crossroad of radical change, but without drastic progress as it’s clutched by McCarthyism. That’s it is on the heels of World War II and that the grim prospect of another war was on the loom add to the uncertainty of the time. Frank and April Wheeler, both in their late twenties, appear to be the model couple: bright, talented, beautiful, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. They seem to have it all together. Like many of their contemporaries, they despise the mediocrity, stagnancy, and sentimentality that have shaped the nation’s psyche.

“It’s as if everybody’d made this tacit agreement to live in a state of total self-deception. The hell with reality.” [68]

Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But are they sure that they are not self-deceived themselves? Always being wary of the fact that she’s a mediocre graduate from a dramatic school, April’s botched performance at a play takes a technically worse turn on her marriage. Perhaps she gets married too young and is not cut to be a housewife. Frank’s job at the business machine company is dull, condemning him to a slow, painless death. April has conceived the move to France in order for Frank to find himself in life. The talk of relocating overseas with no employment lined up, the absent-mindedness during daytime, the withdrawal from consciousness in office, the relaxation of child discipline, and the dependence on alcoholic stimulation are all tell-tale signs that their certainty is crumbling and that they are the jaded ones. Ironically and sadly, only John Givings, the institutionalized son of local realtor Helen and her husband Howard, is able to see what’s simmering beneath their surface.

Revolutionary Road is written with such mordant unsentimental perceptions that elucidate emotions in precision—emotions of being stuck up and trapped. Yates takes the time to unfold the young couple’s lives, exploring our critical modern shortcomings in school, work, marriage, family, and community. But these are mere instruments that Yates employs to pave for the shocking revelation: the inability to love, which threaten to topple the whole intricate structure of just the marriage but their selves. They have instead turned to the will-o’-the-wisp in order to elude their problem. 355 pages. [Read/Skim/Toss]

24 Responses

  1. I’m just going to go ahead and say it – I LOVED THIS BOOK! And I’m glad to see that you liked it, too. Something about Yates’ style was just….wonderful. I loved it.

  2. Great review, Matt! Richard Yates is such a master of realistic prose isn’t he? From your review I know I’ll really enjoy the social shortcomings that confront this couple.

  3. Thanks for this review – yet another book to add to the evergrowing to-read list. The cover is gorgeous 😀

  4. Thanks for the review. I’ve heard great things about this book, and provided I ever come across a used copy of it, I’m really interested in giving it a read. It sounds like Yates masterfully uses language to sculpt his story.

    And I agree, the cover of the book is very alluring!

  5. I really liked your review Matt. I’ve never read anything by this author but I definitely want to read this book. The cover art is great and would make me pick up the book to see what it’s all about.

  6. I read this a month or so ago and I wholeheartedly second everything you’ve said here. Great review of a fantastic book that everyone should read.

  7. Sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the review.
    But I hate to jump on the bandwagon and read any book that is presently coming out as a movie…it’s just a strange quirk of mine. So I will have to wait a ‘respectable’ time to read it…lol

  8. I’m in the middle of reading this and will leave a review pretty soon: I want to read it before seeing the film…. So far, I’m really enjoying the book: it’s very well written and conjures up what is happening to the Wheelers and where and how.

  9. Chelsea:
    It’s an American classics. Who says American literature is insular and uninspiring? (I believe the honorary secretary of the Swedish Academy did.)

  10. John:
    The book would pass for a social commentary through the exploration of a couple’s life. It’s very well-written, full of aplomb.

  11. tuesday:
    You may wish to switch out some of the tough books on your Feb list for this one? 🙂

  12. Steph:
    This particular cover is the UK Vintage edition. Here in the US bookstores are flooded with the movie tie-in editions. But Yates’ writing is not to be missed! 🙂

  13. Rebecca:
    I’m surprised Yates, for his aplomb and suave writing style, is not more widely read in college English. He’s certainly becoming one of my favorite novelists.

  14. caite:
    I agree with you that you have to foster a mood for different books. This one happens to suit me at this time. 🙂

  15. seachanges:
    I’ll be looking forward to reading your review.

  16. Staci:
    It turns out that Richard Yates is a prolific author whom I have overlooked over the years. I plan to add more of his works to my reading list this year.

  17. This sounds wonderful, and so faithful to the time frame in which it is set. It’ll have to go on my TBR immediately!

  18. I really want to read this one before I see the movie but I get the feeling I’ll probably go catch the film first. That’s a great cover too. Reminds me of a noir thriller though.

  19. chartroose:
    It reads like a social commentary indeed. It’s very realistic. 🙂

  20. iliana:
    That the covers resembles a noir thriller was my very first impression. It’s so pretty that I picked it up without knowing that it was made into a movie. This is the Vintage UK edition, which is quite rare in the US.

  21. I read Revolutionary Road in college — for a “modern” history course — and just fell in love with it! I shared many of your sentiments and just adore the story. When I found out it was being made into a film, I immediately picked it up and re-read some of my favorite passages! Can’t wait to see the movie. Great review!

  22. Megan:
    I think Richard Yates should be read more widely. He’s one of the landmark American novelists. 🙂

  23. I’m looking forward to reading this! I love the UK cover by the way!

  24. I am betrayed mildly by this rubbish. Too bad the author is dead; so that I now feel a little callous in writing this commentary. The book was very entertaining and surely Richard Yates gets into the souls of the various characters like the greats (Gatsby). Throughout my reading (was a page turner for sure) I would ponder that he is a little too feminine in his detailed characterizations. I wondered if he was in fact gay. So he was ahead of his time it would seem. Apparently writing during the wholesome 50’s about enlightened people that were culturally superior to the suburban fakers in Revolutionary Road Estates. The woman (April) was the heroin. Frank with his macho name but cowardly soul was a stereotypical straight guy, emasculated by his slavish false vain efforts to please our beloved heroin. Only she is self centered. She doesn’t care to try to help Frank become more of man. After all God gave women this ability. Fuck your dead soul down there Richard. And end the end we find a case for Roe v Wade. What a fool (I am). Scnookered. Don’t you be a fool also. I’m just a right wing looney. There is no room for a normal Christian in 2009. Okay maybe a few women have died with coat hanger abortions, but how many fetuses/babies have died inauspiciously via frivolous abortions. 5 million to one. And in the coat hanger case, it is about the poor little women; never about the fetuses/babies is it you bastards. As a man (not that unlike the dispicable hetero-Frank) I would (pray to have the courage when the time came to) die for my kids. Logically and spiritually it is altogether fitting Richard. Fuck April. I never liked the name April anyway; funny that Richard would use a low class name for his little coat hanger victim.

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