Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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I have been meaning to read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates for some time now, and I finally picked up a paperback copy during the summer. I also suggested at book group in August that we should read it and so it came to pass that we did. I have been reading more American contemporary fiction over the last few years and really enjoyed this type of melodramatic novel written in the 1950s and 1960s.

Revolutionary Road is about the lives of a typical American couple in the 1950s; they’re living an entirely suburban life with two kids, the husband dislikes his mundane job in the city, whilst the ‘pretty little’ wife stays at home being a ‘pretty little wife’. The main difference between Frank and April Wheeler and their all American counterparts is that they want out. Frank being more and more downtrodden by the sheer mundanity of life, who thinks of himself to be more philosophical and in some ways superior to be stuck in this endless suburbia, is thrown a lifeline by April to escape. The Wheeler’s could move away, April could work; she could support Frank and the family whilst he finds himself…

This is the very basic set up of the novel and the first part of the story sets the scene in intricate detail for the reader. I don’t want to go any further in regards to plot details so as not to spoil it for any possible future readers out there. What I will say though is that I very much enjoyed this book. Richard Yates writes beautifully, encapsulating Frank’s life in a relatively short time. I warmed, at first, to Frank and his disdain towards his own life; however, the reader’s relationship with Frank changes throughout the whole novel – I found that I felt disappointed with him, I felt an underlying sadness towards him mixed with contempt. It’s not that Frank is wholly unlikeable, on the contrary, he is trying to do what he feels is best for his family (most of the time). But, as the reader, Yates gives us a view into Franks thoughts and feelings, which as the novel progresses, become more conniving and self-centred.

The book revolves around Frank, unfortunately there is very little insight into April (even though she is the other central character) and how she feels. Yates doesn’t tell us ‘who’ April is. What are her drives? What does she think of Frank? How does she reach the decisions she does? We never get answers to these and a whole multitude of other questions; whether or not this was the author’s intention all along, it is not clear. I think that April’s character was far more interesting, I wanted to know more about her, listen to her views. I think that the book could have been better had the reader been given this further insight, even if it meant that the book was longer; I think there was room for the novel to grow. Other peripheral characters within the novel were well crafted, although again a focus on the male characters was very evident. This may well have been intentional or maybe just a sign of the time it was written – I like to think the former.

All told, Revolutionary Road is a very fine novel. Yates beautifully crafts sentences into paragraphs and chapters, telling a story that is engaging, heartfelt and tragic. It is this type of novel that defines a genre, and although it is not the best example of the contemporary American novel, it still shows an author on top of their skills, creating a story that could easily be a reality. Yates’ prose is powerful and has a strong impact without being dense and unreadable. I thought it was excellent and would definitely recommend it – especially if you have read and liked any John Williams or John Updike.

 

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