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Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

6 Jul

Do you love stories of suburban woe? Are you at one with the irony of suburbia? Does this “The Onion” article seem hilarious to you? Well, for Frank and April Wheeler, the doomed protagonists in Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road, they thought they were above all that. They thought they were in on the joke too, together, until tragically, they learn that indeed they were not.

Also, “Mad Men” fans, if you’re missing your weekly dose of Betty Melodrama, this might be your best bet till she’s back on the air sometime next year.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Published: 1961

Difficulty: Not difficult. Unless maybe you just had a bad break-up. Then yeah, this one would be hard.

Quick Read: Yes. Even more so if you have no emotions.

Synopsis: The novel opens as April Wheeler, a mother and wife still somewhat new to the Connecticut suburban lifestyle, goes on stage as the leading lady in a community theater performance. Though she is fulfilling her dream to act, the audience is not enthralled. Even her loving husband Frank tries, but cannot agree that it was a great performance. It in this argument that we see them argue, violently and angrily, on the side of the road. As the novel progresses, we learn that their impassioned relationship hinged on their eventual move to Paris that they had dreamed of as youngsters that never panned out. Frank works for the same company in New York City that his father did, and has assimilated to the commuting life, whereas April is still reckless (and yes, “Mad Men”er’s, she’s not a great mom). As Frank’s gaze begins to wander and April learns she may need to perform an unspeakable act, they try to repair their relationship by attempting to move to Paris, an idea that stuns their friends and neighbors who themselves have strong feelings about the Wheelers themselves. Yet when the trip falls through, it seems that tragedy must inevitably strike the couple and leave them scarred forever.

What makes this book awesome: If that synopsis up there doesn’t do it for you, I’m not sure what will. It certainly capture the feel of the suburban 1950’s/60’s “conformity,” and how much that differed from a young, bohemian, urban life. Seriously, if this era interests you, if you can’t get enough of “Mad Men,” and if you love a good drama, look no further than Revolutionary Road. It packs a punch all around.

The action is slow, in that it is mostly internal, verbal, and emotional. There was a movie made of the book recently, and while it is pretty good, it seems impossible to characterize the Wheelers’ demise in anything but language. Here’s a clip:

It’s hard to see how laden it all is with passion there, because they are just…words. (Though don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad movie) But that’s what makes this book so engrossing–the emotion that it is so full of.

Some neat-o things to know:

  • Yates was quoted as saying that the central theme of this book was “If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.” (This was said in the Boston Review, I believe).
  • Silly as this is, they filmed parts of this in my hometown, and at real Metro North commuter train stations in Connecticut. The state still fits the movie.

Apparently Yates was also the creepy guy in the neighborhood who sat on cars. Makes a lot of sense, I suppose.