Despite being an English graduate I feel profoundly uncomfortable writing a book review. Maybe sometimes the more you study the less you know, however I’m plodding on, with the hope you get something from these…
Deceptive in its simplicity Revolutionary Road charts suburban suffocation, the workings of deception and self-deception, failures of both romantic idealism and the nuclear family. At times it was just too close to home for me, painful, depressing and too reflective of myself. Written in the 50’s Yates account of the tensions, disappointments and regrets of life in middle class America have barely dated; they stand as bitter and relevant as ever.
Centred around the relationship of April and Frank Wheeler, Revolutionary Road portrays an unflinching account of what happens when bright young things grow old and weary. Both characters alternate between frustrating and empathetic. Yates lays the flaws and inadequacies of both characters bare and by doing so reveals the secret thoughts you struggle to deny. I constantly saw myself in both of them, and hated myself for doing so. Like looking at yourself in a mirror under harsh neon light, it is a profoundly uncomfortable experience.
Frank and April see themselves as superior and apart from the tedious mediocrity of their immediate environment. They try to make a place for themselves and their beauty, intelligence, ambition and ‘unconventional’ attitudes in a world which seems to offer them little satisfaction. Their attempts to escape this condition are articulated through April throwing herself into theatre with the preciously named ‘Laurel Players’, or their plans to discover an alternative future in Europe.
For me Yates account continues its relevance because of the paltry changes which have occurred in our day to day existence since it was written. Frank battles with a dull job which pulls him in despite his better intentions, the couple struggle to find a role for friendship in their adult lives, they feel isolated as parents and experience brushes with madness. Frank and April’s hen pecked landlord Howard Givings frequently turns off his hearing aid as his wife chatters away in the background and this repeated motif articulates a larger isolation and loneliness.
Despite a focused tight narrative, Yates reaches out to paint a chilling picture of a wider malaise. Fred and April think they are unique. The point is they are not.