Revolutionary Road is Richard Yates’s debut novel from 1961. It is about Frank and April Wheeler, a couple of Connecticut suburbanites living on Revolutionary Hill Estates, and their mostly half-hearted and nervous attempts to break free from the banal rut they find themselves in.
I have to tell you that after reading Between the World and Me, I was not in the right mood for this book. Whiny white people with whiny white-people problems! Frank and April are extremely unpleasant characters. They are confident that they are much more intelligent and evolved than anyone else they know; much more sophisticated, much more politically aware, far less boring and stifling. How do they prove this, to themselves or anyone else? They say it frequently, usually over a lot of drinks. Frank’s way of showing that he isn’t tied to his job like those other schmucks is to choose a job he doesn’t like and doesn’t work at. Well! That’ll teach ’em!
April, of course, is even worse off. How is she supposed to lift herself above the common run? She participates in community theater, but it’s a complete disaster. She’s too smart to pander to Frank’s vanity for an entire life together. So… Paris! Yes! They’ll move to Paris, and April will get a job and support Frank while he figures out what he wants to do with all his talents besides his despised office job. The only problem with this, of course, is that the notion terrifies Frank (not that he would tell April that.) He isn’t really sure that he has any talents; he doesn’t want to live off his wife (he has hilarious visions of her coming home, polished and competent, while he sits in his bathrobe.) So he begins to undermine her, and everything begins to crumble.
I’ve said that I wasn’t in the right mood for Revolutionary Road. But I admit I was eventually pulled in. Yates writes beautiful prose, and the image of these two people raging at each other in a silent subdivision is compelling. (The most helpless people here are of course their two small bewildered children.) There are major plot points here that don’t work — the Wheelers have a realtor who brings over her “insane” son for company, and he tells them “home truths” that cause big cracks in their marriage. That’s a trope I could do without. And Yates can be a little heavy-handed with the symbolism, like the way Frank never completes the walkway from the door to the sidewalk. Yes, thank you, I understood that they are not getting anywhere. But still — Yates brings important issues in more subtly, like the war, affairs, abortions, the nascent importance of psychotherapy, and the yearning for “something more.” It wasn’t my favorite book this year, but I’m glad I read it. Have any of you read this, or seen the movie?