When I was in college, Revolutionary Road was one of those books that was considered de rigeur for anyone with intellectual pretensions. Reading it gave you entrée into an exclusive club dedicated to disparaging the lives our parents lead.
Of course, I read it.
What I remembered was how dreary the book was. These were dreary characters living in a dreary world. The had boring, meaningless jobs and lives and were totally unlikable. Reading it was like being smothered in a thick gray cloud.
So, you can imagine my surprise when the title popped us as a "must see" movie. And now it is an Awards contender. I will grudgingly admit that a DiCaprio/Winslett pairing is probably noteworthy, but Revolutionary Road??
Only one thing to do: I bought and downloaded the book last week. If nothing else, I wanted to see if my memory was failing.
Well, it turns out my memory was not exactly failing. But it also turns out that there is a big difference between my young reading self and the adult I turned out to be which should probably be a relief.
What I failed to understand as a young person is the power of Yates' writing. The vivid and stark simplicity of his narrative, the tight dialog and his quiet, relentless perceptiveness. My biggest surprise was how humorous some of the dialog really is. My younger self evidently totally missed that aspect of his writing.
Reading it this time, I actually found myself empathizing with these characters. I know exactly what it is like to get caught up in a role, how subtly it all happens. And how you wake up one day and wonder how you got here from there. That particular theme is timeless -- not some relic of a 50s style American dream. Surprisingly, the novel is as relevant to life today as it was when it was written.
Revolutionary Road got me to thinking about the subtle ways in which we differentiate ourselves from our circumstances. The ways in which we hold ourselves above the reality of our daily lives. And the tyranny of the belief that we are somehow special and different.
My adult self recommends this book for its narrative, dialog and social commentary. In fact, I am going to got see it tomorrow and find out if Hollywood does it justice.
Here are the publisher notes:
In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model 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 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.
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. .