Title: Revolutionary Road
Author: Richard Yates
Publisher: Vintage Books
Summary (from back of book): From the moment of its publication in 1961, Revolutionary Road was hailed as a masterpiece of realistic fiction and as the most evocative portrayal of the opulent desolation of the American suburbs. It’s the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright, beautiful, and talented couple who lied on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. 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.
“That’s how 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, and I’ve been making you subscribe to it all this time.”
If The Great Gatsby and the television series Mad Men had a love child, I am almost 100 per cent convinced that the result would be Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Take the sense of discontent and disillusionment that you have in The Great Gatsby and combine it with the flawed illusions of American suburbia and domestic life from Mad Men, and you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of what Revolutionary Road is is all about.
Now, Revolutionary Road is, in my opinion, a difficult book to review in the traditional sense of the word, as there isn’t much of a plot. I suppose if you really want to talk about plot, Revolutionary Road is about Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly perfect couple who live in a seemingly perfect house in a seemingly perfect Connecticut suburb on a seemingly perfect street called Revolutionary Road. Once a couple of bright and talented young people for whom the world was an open book, Frank and April feel they are being dragged down by the shallow, superficial world of American suburbia. In order to counteract this spiritual corruption and return to the interesting people they once were, Frank and April hatch a plan to move to Paris, where April can work in some foreign office and Frank can spend his days rediscovering himself. Over the course of the novel, however, this plan slowly falls to pieces and readers tragically watch as Frank and April become the people they always claimed to despise so fervently.
“It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.”
That, on a basic level, is a very brief description of Revolutionary Road. It’s an intriguing plot, to be sure, but it does this book no justice, for the beauty of Revolutionary Road lies not in the plot but in Yates’ beautiful writing style and its poignant psychological impact.
As I mentioned before, this is a rather slow moving novel and not much at all seems to happen (a bit like in the suburbs) until the end, when the pessimism of Yates’ writing style hits you with full force like a steam train and all you can do is sit there contemplating your own surroundings and the tragic superficiality of our own modern consumer culture (wow, that was a mouthful). I myself live in the suburbs, and even though 2016 is quite different from 1955 I was struck by how much my modern suburb has in common with the Wheeler’s world. I think that is the sign of a great classic, and the reason why writers such as Orwell are still so beloved by the masses – the fact that the setting, characters, and message from a book that was written over fifty years ago can still feel so incredibly fresh and relevant in our world today. That the true essence of human nature is still basically the same, just transplanted into a new environment with a new social context and new set of problems, is both an awe-inspiring and terrifying concept, and that is the beauty of Revolutionary Road.
“He made the most of it. Sentences poured from him, paragraphs composed themselves and took wing, appropriate anecdotes sprang to his service and fell back to make way for the stately passage of epigrams.”
I apologize that this review is not as long as some of my others, but I am having an incredibly hard time putting my thoughts about this book into words. Revolutionary Road is a beautiful, moving novel, a hallmark of 20th century American literature, and, now, one of my favorite books. Yates does an incredible job of capturing the realities of the American dream, the cookie-cutter nature of the suburbs, and the pervasive fear of becoming completely and utterly ordinary. Parts will make you laugh, while others while make you feel extremely empty inside, and the entire book is touched by a tragic sense of romanticism that is undeniably contagious. If you are a fan of 20th century American literature, of The Great Gatsby, of the series Mad Men or unreliable narrators or even just of gorgeous prose, go pick up Revolutionary Road right now. Set aside an entire day, however, because I can guarantee that once you start reading this book you won’t want to put it down.