The revolutionary road not taken

June 4, 2009

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

First edition as featured on the Bauman Rare Books website

Richard Yates’ 1961 novel Revolutionary Road about April and Frank Wheeler now moves off my reading table. I read it compulsively, neglecting the books on my Currently Reading list.

April and Frank’s problems got to me, and Yates’ unembellished, inviting prose reeled me in. Together, it’s a powerful combination confirming the recommendation of the book to me by a poetry professor who said the writing is exquisite and an example of “best writing” available. A “must read,” he said with such conviction I couldn’t ignore it. He was right.

It is the 1950s, and the young Frank and April living in Greenwich Village see themselves as a cut above the common person. April gets pregnant unexpectedly, and they end up living in New York City suburbia miserably surrounded by cookie-cutter homes, identical lawns and personalities.

Their fights, their yearnings, Frank’s life in a boring job and April’s life in an apron gnaw at their desires to rise above what Frank calls “the hopeless emptiness of everything.” In the end, they are devoured by it.

It’s depressing stuff, and that’s what surprised me about my attachment to the book to the very end – the story didn’t weigh heavily on me. In fact, what’s depressing is what makes the story seductive. All that 1950s suburbia entrapment and identity struggle is so very real. It still hits home, pitch-perfectly evoking the demon of ruinous self-deception.

Blake Bailey, Yates biographer, wrote this in a June 2007 Slate.com article “Revolutionary Road – the Movie:”

Quite simply, Yates meant for the Wheelers to seem a little better than mediocre: not, that is, stoical mavericks out of Hemingway, or glamorous romantics out of Fitzgerald. Rather, the Wheelers are everyday people—you and me—who pretend to be something they’re not because life is lonely and dull and disappointing.”

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