REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates

Book Quote:

“We both got committed to this enormous delusion, because that’s what it is, an enormous, obscene delusion-this idea that people have to resign from real life and ‘settle down’ when they have families. It’s the great sentimental lie of the suburbs.”

Book Review:

Review by Danielle Bullen (NOV 30, 2009)

Two young people caught in a mundane existence are at the heart of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. April and Frank Wheeler, formerly lively Greenwich Village singles, have become an ordinary suburban Connecticut married couple. The book is just as poignant now as it was when it was first published in 1961. Named one of Time’s top one hundred novels of the 20th century, it was re-released in time for the December 2008 movie version.

The story takes places in 1955. The Wheelers, just shy of their 30th birthdays, live with their two children in a subdivision called Revolutionary Hill Estates, one of the prototypical communities that sprung up across American after World War II. When we first meet them, April is performing in a rather poor community theater play. It’s the sparking point for the first fight between the two, as April accuses Frank of not praising her acting. The tension between the characters is palpable and Yates early on establishes his skill at peeling away their layers to reveal the rotten cores. Throughout the book, reading about Frank and April is like watching a car crash. You cringe but can’t look away from the destruction.

The novel succeeds as an indictment of American malaise. No more is this more evident than through Frank’s attitude towards his job at Knox Business Machines. It is never made clear to the reader exactly what he does. He prides himself on how little work he can do, remarking, “The great advantage of a place like Knox is that you can sort of turn your mind off every morning.”  As Frank wastes away in his cubicle, it becomes a game to him, testing the limits. April, wanting to rescue herself from the life of a housewife, hatches a plan to move the family to France. She’ll work to support them while Frank figures out what he really wants to do with his life. Frank, looking for an escape from his doldrums, readily agrees.

The Wheelers are not the only couple in the novel. Shep and Milly Campbell are the subject of Frank and April’s distaste. They’re convinced that they are better than the Campbells, but the four have been dealt the same lot in life. The Campbell’s, though, cheerfully accept their jobs and organized days and white picket fence, exactly what the Wheelers are fleeing. Another, older couple, the Givings, first figure in when Helen sells the Wheeler their house. Unlike April, Milly works outside the home, creating a sense of purpose for herself instead of waiting for someone or something to fulfill her. But the Givings really make an impact through their son John, who is in a psychiatric hospital. He is allowed day trips and on several of his excursions, he and his parents have dinner at the Wheelers. John says aloud what readers had been thinking, that Frank and April are only playing house, not living a real life.

Reality interjects when Frank is ironically offered a better positon at work. The promotion comes at the right time as April is pregnant. Frank suggests they postpone Paris for a few years while April is convinced everything is ruined. The pregnancy leads to another of the Wheelers raw emotional smackdowns. April wants to induce a miscarriage, defying Frank, “Do you think you can stop me?”  Frank talks her out of the idea, accepts his new job, and the two establish a truce. The peace is short-lived as April admits that she had fooled herself into wanting the husband and the house and the kids because it was expected of her. Her deluded desire to escape her situation leads to the novel’s sad but ultimately predictable ending.

Yates’ characters see themselves as “victims of the world’s indifference”  but is it society or themselves that cause the most disappointment? Revolutionary Road holds a mirror up to suburban clichés and then smashes the glass. Are we responsible for our happiness or is it determined by chance? The novel leaves the reader with the foreboding sense that their lives are no different than the Wheelers.

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AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 268 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; Reissue edition (December 30, 2008)
REVIEWER: Danielle Bullen
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Richard Yates

Wikipedia page on Richard Yates

EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Others that you may like:

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Perfect Life by Jessica Shattuck

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November 30, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Classic, Contemporary, Debut Novel, NE & New York

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