Friday, 21 March 2008

Richard Yates - Revolutionary Road

Over the course of the spring and summer of 1955, this novel charts the ultimate unraveling of April and Frank Wheeler's suburban family life in the Revolutionary Hill Estate in Connecticut.

From outside, the Wheelers are happy and successful. Frank, with his stories of soldiering in Paris during the War, maintains ironic detachment from his New York job which means he keeps his air of an intense young man destined for great things. Beautiful April, with her flair for the theatre, her immaculate home and her two pink-cheeked children, is the envy of her friends. Their active social life revolves around cocktail parties with like-minded couples, who also happen to live in the suburbs but who remain passionately interested in the arts, the ills of contemporary society, the usual themes for intelligent adults. These conversations are essential for Frank and April, as they are their link to the bohemian life they had in New York City, before adulthood and responsibilities got in the way.

But April and Frank are not happy and successful, in fact their unhappiness is hardening into desperation. Frank is suffocating in the boredon of commuting and office routine. April, with her inability to love unconditionally, is drowning in domestic drudgery, her mind rotting. So April hatches a plan to rescue them from the brink: the whole family will relocate to Paris, where she will work as a secretary while Frank "finds himself". This plan, with its details (like passports, visas, beginner French lessons, selling the house), quickly takes over as the euphoria at the prospect of escape infuses everything. And so the novel builds to its painfully inevitable climax.

This book made me cry at times, as the world Yates weaves is unbearably sad. The optimism of post-war America, when the rise of the suburbs, that transitional limbo between the crowded city and the empty country, was wonderfully innovative, but crushed individuality and the human spirit along the way. The transition from footloose young adult years, when potential means the world is wide open, to the gradual constriction brought on by the responsibilities of parenthood is made all the harder for the Wheelers because their love for each other has dissolved in a mist of bitter arguments and white lies.

I loved this book. It evoked a world that's recognisable, but also alien, with the male and female characters equally well drawn. I was sucked in, and didn't want it to end. I'm now looking forward to when I inevitably re-read this book.

4 comments:

Table Talk said...

I've seen several comments on this book recently and it is certainly exciting considerable interest. Thank you for bringing it to my notice.

verbivore said...

This is one I've meant to read for some time now. I'm adding it to my list to read sooner than later.

Logophile said...

Table Talk & Verbivore, I hope you read Yates as I'd love to read your thoughts! I've just returned from holidays to find some of his books have arrived from Amazon, and I'm looking forward to reading him again soon.

DeWitt Henry said...

You might enjoy the Yates contributions to Ploughshares in the archive (type in "Richard Yates"), www.pshares.org.

I also recommend http://www.richardyates.org/