WORRYWARTS Frank spends all his work day anticipating April in her evening dramatic premier A mental projection of scenes to unfold tonight but nowhere in these plans did he foresee the weight and shock of reality Frank is a college graduate but hasn t learned a fundamental, critical truth constantly projecting your life into the future is a sure fire formula for disappointment And all during April s actual performance Frank incessantly bites his nails and gnaws on his fist until it s a raw, red pulp Such anxiety and insecurity Frank typifies the 1950s emotionally distraught worrywart As Richard Yates notes above, a society of such worrywarts will cling to safety and security at any price.
LOGORRHEA Could you please stop talking So asks April of Frank ridding home after her theatrical disaster She doesn t realize she is asking the impossible since this is America 1955 where silence has become the dreaded enemy an entire society of know it alls drowning in their own chatter Talk as a prime tool to establish how absolutely right you are And if anyone else doesn t see it your way or dares to disagree, God help them, they must be quickly set straight Yak, yak, yak, jabber, jabber, jabber, fueled by those two prime 1950s pick me ups chain smoking and martinis.
BABBITT LIVES Frank and April s suburban realtor, a two faced, despicable, intrusive gatekeeper of the growing suburbs, Mrs Givings, runs around doing her best to make sure new residents equate personal value with real estate value Frank s inability to stand up to this loutish, boorish woman speaks volumes to his insecurity and pitiful lack of character.
A WOMAN S PLACE Nowhere is Frank s hypocrisy and ugly ego on display than in his dealings with his wife, April Frank condescendingly snickers at the middle class mentality and lifestyle where Daddy is always the great man and Mommy always listens to Daddy and sticks by his side but Frank quickly boils over into a rage at those times when April doesn t do exactly that, listen to him and sticks by his side Turns out, April is quite capable of speaking her own mind, especially in matters of importance such as dealing with her pregnancy and the decision to have a child This novel captures how the 1950s scream out for much needed women s liberation.
TELEVISION RULES Frank and April s choice to have a TV in their new suburban house Why not Don t we really owe it to the kids Besides, it s silly to go on being snobbish about television The author s penetrating insight into 1950s mentality educated men and women want to scoff at television, thinking their tastes much too cultivated and refined to constantly stare passively at the boob tube, but that s exactly what they do for hours and hours Owe it to the kids sheer balderdash.
THE WORLD OF MEN AND GIRLS Every single scene in Frank s midtown Manhattan office is a revealer of the strict stratification in the grey flannel 50s men doing the serious work on this side girls performing secretarial and filing on that side And it goes without saying every single person in the office is white Frank s father s name was Earl, a serious handicap in a world of Jims, Teds, Toms, Mikes and Joes, since in workplace USA men are called by their shortened first names Ah, to make such a big deal over names Just goes to show how suffocating and strict the conformity Sidebar I always have found it amusing that as soon as the post 1950s business world discovered women will work harder than men, generally do a better job than men and work for a lot less pay then men, all of a sudden, surprise, surprise, huge shift in the American workforce.
TRUE REBELLION AND PSYCHIATRY Serious energy is infused into Yates story when April and especially Frank are given a dose of what it really means to rebel against standardized, conventional society John Givings, fresh from a mental hospital, pays a number of visits to their home In the black and white 1950s world, if someone had to be dragged off to a mental hospital aka nut house, loony bin, funny farm, that person was instantly labeled totally insane or completely crazy, placed on the same level as a leper in a leper colony And God help the poor soul who is told they should see a psychiatrist In the 1950s, telling people they need mental help was a key method of intimidation and control, as Frank well knows when he tells April she needs to see a shrink THE LURE OF MONEY AND SUCCESS Oh, Frank, how you spin 180 degrees when a company executive sits you down, gives you some honest to goodness appreciation and judges that you, Frank Wheeler, have what it takes to join him in a new business venture and use your ingenuity to move up in the company and make some serious money With such a glowing prospect, following April s plan of moving to Paris so you can sit around and fine yourself begins to smell like a big pile of dog you know what THE KIDS Frank and April have two children six year old Jennifer and four year old Michael, running back and forth in the backyard, playing with the neighborhood boys and girls but most of the time sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons And where will Jennifer and Michael be as teenagers in 1969 At Woodstock, wearing their hair long, smoking grass, listening to Joan Baez and Richie Havens and Santana Bye, bye 1950s Good riddance Really Tough LoveYates has a reputation as a chronicler of the smug years of post WWII America Perhaps But as an artist, he is much than a period sociologist Yates s understanding of the folie a deux which we call marriage is profound The reasons two people find each other attractive are buried in experiences of which neither is conscious much less rationally able to think about To call such attraction love is euphemistic It may be, at best, an attempt to redeem or complete oneself that might eventually develop into love but only if the underlying reasons are resolved sufficiently and replaced Subsequent decisions to bring children into such an indeterminate situation are likely based on equally fatuous thinking It seems amazing therefore that the survival rates of marriage are as high as they are and that of us are not functionally psychotic.
Yates raises the perennial if not eternal question of the nature and implications of commitment I recall the distinction made when I was in the services between making a contribution and making a commitment in one s breakfast of bacon and eggs, the chicken has made a contribution the pig is decisively committed Does this anecdote express the reality or essential ethics of commitment Are the reasons for making commitments, misguided or not, relevant to a continuation of a commitment Do changed circumstances, including improved awareness of motives, abrogate the demands of previous commitments Can Til death us do part be anything than irrational optimism and encouragement Personal sovereignty is analogous to national sovereignty The implication would seem to be that treaties, contracts, agreements are never unconditional, never intended as eternal There may be consequences of non compliance with any of these, but acceptance of consequences is part of sovereignty the share out of community property, loss of mutual friends, increased psychological and social tensions and of course the fate of the next generation The calculus of contract termination may be complex but doesn t seem to imply any absolute moral constraints On the other hand, can what we believe to be considered judgment be anything than hapless struggle The alternative to withdrawal of commitment is what seems to fascinate Yates We try to work things out In order to deny, or at least delay, the possibility of broken commitment, we tell each other stories Stories about the past and how we arrived at the present could prove therapeutic by uncovering unconscious reasons and reasoning But we tell stories about the future instead, about alternatives lives in exotic locations, doing interesting work, with stimulating friends and colleagues The stories promote hope but little else.
We hope these ideals can compensate for any originating defects But it s likely that Yates is correct these ideals simply reinforce the power of the neuroses already in play A new script perhaps but the same denouement There is no way to anticipate the psychological baggage we take on with our partner The piper will be paid Pain is inevitable The issue is who pays and when Unambiguously happy endings are not within the range of the possible.
For the longest time I just wanted a family, kids, a decent job, and a happy life in suburbia That was all I wanted That s it It seemed so simple, predictable, and reliable It was my ideal image It seems that society has done a good job of putting that thought in everyone s head The best thing for a young man is for him to go to college, get married, get a reliable job with a steady company, have babies 2 or 3, of course , make friends with neighbors, have birthday parties for the kids, do little cocktail parties with the adults Then he needs to tell his kids to do the same thing And the cycle continues.
That s just what you do I know that mindset isn t as prevalent now as it was when this was written in the 50s And I haven t a doubt that the aforementioned lifestyle was is the best life for many people No doubt at all.
I think the problem lies in rushing into that lifestyle, before really knowing what you re getting into, without really knowing your spouse, without even knowing who you are, and what you really want, and what would really be best for you People get trapped and don t even know they re trapped caught inside their anger, not even knowing what they re angry at Trapped inside the jail that is their home, forced into a miserable life of their own choosing, not knowing why or how it got that way, and even miserable about it for that very reason.
And it s scary for me, because a few bad roles of the die and I could have ended up like Frank fucking Wheeler And it s funny That whole lifestyle Especially the tedious details and what often becomes our self obsessive thoughts You know why it s funny Because it s both ridiculous and real So all the laughter this novel caused me was because shit, man it s real It s very real that most of us are this ridiculous it s very real that we go through the motions each day unaware, petty, and self absorbed it s very real that the most normal among us are among the most insane It s very real that a lot of people are living the ideal lifestyle and are fucking miserable.
And no matter our life situation, we re always hoping for That keeps a lot of us going And we re all pretty fucking shallow too, aren t we Yes People die all the time, and we get over it Yes We Do And often quickly, I might add.
The word timeless probably gets thrown around too much But this novel doesn t just seem timeless And it doesn t just seem relevant today It seems fucking instructive Be careful what you wish for, and pay attention to who you are, and don t suck others dry, and don t suck yourself dry, and search for truth no matter how painful.
And we continue to be self absorbed and ridiculous We make our decisions based on what we think will bring us the most happiness, like life is a game of chess And it is And it goes on.
And I still want my reliable job and my white picket fence And a pretty wife And babies 2 or 3 of them But you see, I m crazy.
Imagine my surprise when I came across Stephen King s Best books of 2009 List one not condescending enough to include solely those published this year , saw that 2nd place belonged to Revolutionary Road Glad I am not alone in feeling a deep sad empathy for this book The story is EXTREMELY well told The story, about young revolutionaries who end up doing exactly the opposite of what they ve set out to do, is quite simple but rich It has different P.
s, which deviates from the outstanding film, the ending is shattering bitter than the one presented on the silver screen.
Academy Award winning director Sam Mendes made a wise decision in giving April Wheeler a brighter limelight to contend with Frank s, the husband sole protagonist of the novel In the film, there is a constant wrestling match which is underlined by the fact that THESE ARE JACK AND ROSE from Titanic and we must instantly feel for them Mendes is a genius, too, in the casting of his ex wife Kate Winslet, who is arguably the best actress of our generation So while Mendes has the ability to play sly film director, almost auteur, Richard Yates has much to contend with His meditation on the cost of real freedom is basically flawless He plays with dialogue in the same awesome way that a dedicated playwright like Edward Albee did He describes in simple ways just how awful the everyday can truly be for a bright, dedicated yet frail American in the 1950 s Makes a stark contrast with today s impediments on a marriage After so many years it seems that sometimes people make jails for themselves with as little ease as they dream big dreams What a wise book Many rate it as depressing, and yes, it tells a very tragic story But at the same time, it s also a tremendously funny book It s just that its humor stings because it s based in the most human of weaknesses Self rationalization.
Frank and April Wheeler are the prototypical post WWII suburban couple happy on the outside, endlessly frustrated on the inside But author Richard Yates isn t interested in just dissecting the suburbs Frank and April are painfully aware of their shallow surroundings, but they ve always tried to convince themselves that they re better than this life Their frustration mainfested in arguments that are painfully realistic and bitter comes from a sense that they should be doing , that they should accomplish something with themselves But, as the failed local theater production that opens the story points out, they re also haunted by the fact that perhaps not only were they not meant to be great, but they were never on the road to greatness in the first place.
Scene after scene crackles with familiarity There s the conversation with another couple that leads to awkward silence until the neighbors troubles provide a desperately needed topic of discussion There s the description of how Frank came to get his job, a dead on commentary on college graduates looking for financial stablity with little output And there s April s heartbreaking lament about the validation she hoped to find for herself in the real world, and what she s found instead.
It s not that the Wheelers are unjustified in their decisions their backstories flesh out Frank s need not to be his blue collar father, and April s desperate desire for a loving family But their attitudes toward facing the world are hopelessly compromised by their insecurity Neither is truly happy with themself, and April s harebrained idea about moving to Paris is just an excuse to avoid the real issue It s not the suburbs that s draining the life from their marriage, it s them In the end, April realizes they were never really in love with each other, just the idealized images they created for each other Revolutionary Road has enjoyed a cult reputation for decades, but has often had a hard time gaining widespread acceptance I think the reason for this is because it s filled with truth the kind that makes people nod in recognition and wince in embarassment It achieves one of the highest goals of fiction It makes you question yourself and the world you live in It s not without hope even after the climactic tragedy, life goes on It s just up to you to try and understand the book s lessons, and figure out if there s anything you ve learned.
watching this movie last night made me want to read the book immediately after and it s not a terrible movie, it s just a little hammy, and the tone is uneven whether these people are meant to be seen as victims of the stultifying, euthanizing effects of suburbia, or if they are at root unlikable people who deserve to be taken down a peg for their arrogance and their conviction that their involvement in this thing we call suburbia is just playacting, not to be taken seriously the book doesn t waver, not to me i always read it as a story of awful people poisoning each other and blaming their wasted lives on each other instead of taking responsibility for their own shortcomings, which, being a generally unsympathetic person, i can applaud and his writing absolutely wonderful the real character in this novel of course, is suburbia soul sucking, dream gutting suburbia that neutralizes all its inhabitants and blandifies the pointy, interesting bits this isn t the lynchian or music for torching view of the suburbs small town charm, where the beneficence of suburbia is compromised by its seedy undertones suburbia, here, is the aggressor, slowly draining its characters of any charms and releasing them back into their after dinner drinks and their morning commute to the office and woe if you think you are somehow special or above it all , particularly if, like the wheelers, your aspirations outweigh your capabilities and your specialness is only ego i grew up in a version of suburbia, and while it wasn t in the same time period, and it wasn t as bad as all this, the writing struck a chord in me and it s good that i am away suburbia is a bitch, but at least they ll always have parisoh, wait.
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This book was written in the early 60 s about the 50 s It has surprising relevance today, particularly if one sees it as a character study The s of those times have hopefully passed Abortion, while still frowned upon, is not illegal or as deadly as it was then The characters here are also skewed a bit, with detail being given to Frank, for example, than to April We see inside his head quite a bit and understand him better It does not make us like him any better I found many of April s outbursts inexplicable, blaming herself, outwardly at least, for this and that I could not see how she would reach such conclusion Yes, I know people do this, have even swum those waters myself But, while I may be missing something here I found it a bit tough to swallow Revolutionary Road is definitely an interesting piece of work, with a keen eye for self delusion, and a larger picture scan of an era Good stuff if you do not mind being a bit bummed out It may encourage you to give a thought to how you might be kidding yourself And that makes it a worthwhile read.
Most of this review was written in 2009, but it was not posted then I updated and posted it in December 2015 In The Hopeful S, Frank And April Wheeler Appear To Be A Model American Couple Bright, Beautiful, Talented, With Two Young Children And A Starter Home In The Suburbs Perhaps They Married Too Young And Started A Family Too Early Maybe Frank S Job Is Dull And April Never Saw Herself As A Housewife Yet They Have Always Lived On The Assumption That Greatness Is Only Just Around The Corner But Now That Certainty Is Now About To Crumble With Heartbreaking Compassion And Remorseless Clarity, Richard Yates Shows How Frank And April Mortgage Their Spiritual Birthright, Betraying Not Only Each Other, But Their Best Selves Rightfully a classic and will forever be one of my favorites Damn, that s good writing