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Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road

Discussion in 'Fiction Books' started by beer good, Jan 8, 2009.

  1. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

    Watch young Frank Wheeler, husband of April and father-of-two in his late 20s, work in the garden of the Wheeler's home in suburban Connecticut. He's breaking out stones in the backyard, dragging them to the front and using them to build a brand new path from his house down to the driveway. It's tough, sweaty work, the kids keep getting in the way and it's doubtful if he's ever going to finish it, but that's what it means to be a Man; you do the job, you support your family.

    Watch young April Wheeler, wife of Frank and mother-of-two in her late 20s, acting in the local community theatre's production of The Petrified Forest. Despite having given up her naive ideas of becoming a model or actress when she married, we're told she's the only good thing about the play; she knows her lines, she understands her part, she's the last one to fall apart when everything starts going wrong and the play ends in disaster. Not that she doesn't eventually fall apart; everyone's an amateur here, after all.
    There's been a ton of films and novels about American suburbian angst in the past 15 years or so, so it stands to reason that Revolutionary Road (set in 1953, published in 1960) has had a revival. But in a weird way, though Revolutionary Road predates all the other stories, it also anticipates them: Frank and April are very well aware of their situation. They're not the ones to blithely settle down and wait for promotions, grandkids and death while the rose bushes grow; they're self-described intellectuals, goddamnit, they know what their parents got wrong, they have plans and aspirations, they know that there's so much more to life than being good neighbours and following the flock. They're the post-war generation, they're the perfect family on the cusp of a brand new world, they're the ones who are going to build a new road out of old stones.

    And it's all going to go to hell.

    Revolutionary Road is easily one of the best reads of the year for me. I don't know what it is that does it; the stark realism; the beautiful prose that stays down to earth without ever becoming dull, descriptive without being flowery, with just enough sneaky irony to underline the earnestness, show-don't-tell like very few can do it; the multi-faceted, well-drawn characters and the way he sets them up against each other without using any far-fetched plot elements - just lets it play out and coldly takes them where they need to go, not for the sake of making a heavy-handed point but just because that's what happens to these people. One of the blurbs has Kurt Vonnegut declaring it the Great Gatsby of his generation, which is a perfectly valid comparison, though personally I can't help thinking of Rabbit, Run - with the added twist that Yates gives the story a more interesting (and by extension horriffic) spin than Updike; where it's hard not to think that Rabbit Angstrom is an asshole who deserves what he gets, and the people who suffer from his shenanigans are victims, there aren't really any bad guys in Revolutionary Road. Sure, they have their less admirable sides - Frank especially - but there's no conscious malice here, at least not to start with. The road isn't paved only with good intentions but also with a certain set of deeply set ideals, ideas, power structures and personal backgrounds that slowly but surely bring everything crashing down. And what makes it all the more chilling is that these are the sort of people who are supposed to know better, who think they have the intellect, education and fresh ideas to do things in a new way - and given everything they've come from, everything they still don't see, can't not end up where they're headed.

    We tend to forget that "revolution" means "full circle"; the very word itself belies the notion of forging a brand-new path. And even the best intentions for how to make the world better tend to end in a reign of terror. Revolutionary Road is so deliciously detailed, so subtle, and yet hits me like a ton of bricks.

    :star5:
     
  2. silverseason

    silverseason New Member

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    Thank you for a very fair review. Perhaps if I had read your review before I read the book I would have tolerated it better.

    My negative feelings were mostly related to the characters who were shallow and not at all self-knowing. Was April's desire to help Frank find himself (not much there to find so far as I can see) a substitute for trying to find something within herself? They both posed as what they thought they ought to want to be, somehow entitled to a better life than what they were having.

    I was there for the 1950s and it was not everywhere in every way as portrayed in this novel. This is irritating when the novel is taken to stand for the period. The Depression was over, World War II was over, and the survivors were delighted to be able to create families and enjoy their lives. It was an over-reaction into what was then called "togetherness", but the pendulum always swings.
     
  3. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    That's actually part of what I liked about them - to me, it was pretty clear that they were both, so to speak, unable to see the forest for the trees; they're so convinced that they've figured it all out, that they know exactly what they're up to, even as their faults and their errors become ever more obvious to the reader. It's to some extent a story about self-deception - again, Gatsby springs to mind.
     
  4. saliotthomas

    saliotthomas New Member

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    I was rather impressed by Aprile,i found her very interesting.I love the way John the madman say she is "female",a strong woman entangled in small life,blocking her perspective.
    A trully fantastic book,all of you with an interest in well carfted novel should give it a go.
     
  5. unKeMPt

    unKeMPt New Member

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    Ooh, I really like this snippet. In the introduction of the version I have, Richard Ford notes that the book is an examination of the promises that America initially represented and its failure to make good on them. This full-circle aspect of the title word introduces another interesting layer.

    I'd also heard this book is a lot like The Great Gatsby, but where that book looks at the death of the American Dream with an elegaic sadness, this book does so with a breathtaking savagery. It's a wicked, misanthropic book that implicates the reader, and the effect, for me, was perfectly devastating.
     
  6. jaybe

    jaybe Member

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    I was very disappointed with this book. I'd heard such great things about it.
     
  7. Peder

    Peder Well-Known Member

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    To all, this thread presents a very interesting set of thoughts.

    But, overall, it sounds like a book that will disappoint me, as it has jaybe, after I also have heard so many great things about it.

    Yes, BeerGood, "There's been a ton of films and novels about American suburbian angst in the past 15 years or so, . . ."

    Correct! And I might even add "The Organization Man" by William H. Whyte, Jr, which I have read, from slightly earlier (1956) than the original Revolutionary Road (1960).

    The particular notions that
    and
    these seemingly have a continuing and hypnotic attraction for disaffected authors. Or perhaps merely posturing authors. Either way, no matter -- same effect.

    However, I am with SilverSeason in both generation and sympathy when she says
    I was there in the 1950's, too, starting out life, career and family, in a generally peaceful world not seen since then. I too (along with Richard Yates) have seen characters such as represented in the novel, but the extrapolation, even satirically, to stand for the period and for the rest of us people in it will probably irritate me also. Just as other novels about the Los Angeles of the period do not resonate with me either. I have lived very happy years of my life in Los Angeles and also in the northeast and know the realities of the time in fact in both places, not only the easy distortions of satire or parody.

    So, I'll move Revolutionary Road much further down my list, with apologies to all who did like it, and I'll offer these comments -- more extended than usual -- in support of my action. I am well aware that having a negative reaction to a book that other people like often attracts a negative response to itself. So, I hope this more lengthy post might at least smooth things a bit.

    But Revolutionary Road sounds like a book I will not care for, and I'll give it a pass.
     
  8. saliotthomas

    saliotthomas New Member

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    Fascinating non review Peder.
    We could start a section with non review about book we shall not read.

    and music might not like.

    and film that we are sure we would not be our thing.

    and country that,from what we heard,are just too bizarre,and foreign.

    and poeple we'd rather not meet.(you know !)

    and food that we don't want too taste(like fries grasshopper)

    and.............

    Funny is, most of the thing i thought i would not like just did the opposite.

    But mostly,Why did you not like it Jaybe?.Expecting more drugs and rock n' roll?
     
  9. Peder

    Peder Well-Known Member

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    Saliotthomas,
    If I may say so, I have seen your kind of reaction directed at me before, and can only say that choices have to be made. There are only so many reading hours in one's remaining life and I prefer to read different things in the time given to me. Not necessarily better, or worse, just different.

    Or should we only post thoughts about books we have read from cover to cover? And then only "nice" thoughts that agree that it was a nice book, and we liked it, etc, etc. Otherwise remain silent?

    I can do that too if that is the general name of the game here.
     
  10. saliotthomas

    saliotthomas New Member

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    Whatever Peder.:flowers:
    Personnaly,i find it already hard to write about what i love that i choose not to do so about what i might not like:flowers:
    It take all kind :flowers:
     
  11. Peder

    Peder Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the whatever, Saliotthomas.
    I'm just one of the other kind I suppose.
     
  12. jaybe

    jaybe Member

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    Why would I be expecting drugs and rock and roll? Why would they make a book more interesting for me? I hope you just got out of the wrong side of the bed yesterday and today you will be sweet and charming.

    I didn't like anything about the book. The characters were all shallow, selfish personalities so I couldn't be interested enough in any of them to care what they did. No goodies or baddies. The writing was overblown, used too many words to say very little.
    There wasn't even one sentence which made me think - Oo! I must remember that - Or wow, that's a good way of seeing something.

    I could go on, but I'm sure you get my point. It's not a bad book, but it ain't a great one either.
     
  13. saliotthomas

    saliotthomas New Member

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    I was just refering to your taste for Irving Welsh and Hubert Selby,not a critic really,more of a ;) as we are very few to like Selby.

    And as i said to Peder :flowers: it take all kind.
     
  14. Peder

    Peder Well-Known Member

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    Off topic, but yes, Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn is a magnificent work, and his own life story an inspiring one. (See Wiki)
     

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