Saturday, January 31, 2009

Trapped in Suburbia

Richard Yates wrote “Revolutionary Road” in 1961, the year it was nominated for the National Book Award. It has taken forty seven years for this novel to be made into a movie. When a movie comes out that is based on a novel I try to read the novel before I see the movie. It will often give me a better perspective on the movie. When Yates wrote this story which deals with the emptiness of life in suburbia he was one of the first to deal with this topic. Since then this theme has been addressed again and again by writers and filmmakers. Having said that, I would guess that Yates has done it as well as it can be done.

“Revolutionary Road” is the story of April and Frank Wheeler, a couple who met in New York City, married and find themselves living in suburban Connecticut in the classic New England house with two adorable children. Frank is caught in a dull job at Knox Business Machines where his father had worked before him and April is a stay at home mom. But April and Frank feel they are destined for a much greater life. Frank considers himself an intellectual and April had aspirations to be an actress. They just haven’t had a chance to find themselves. And they hate the idea that they have become the people they look down upon in suburbia.

They come up with the solution to their dilemma. They will move to Europe and find themselves. But life intervenes and the Wheelers find themselves in a swift and furious downward spiral. This is a sad and bleak story. Richard Yates is a very good writer but it is difficult to like his characters. They are superficial and self absorbed. The author deftly introduces the cast of characters who will propel this story. The chatty neighbors/friends, the real estate agent and her son, who is in a mental institution. They all play into the discontent that surrounds and torments the Wheelers. The author takes the reader into the minds of the characters and then he switches the voice to get different points of view. Richard Yates has a wonderful style in this novel, which is said to be his best work.

This is a story that is difficult to read because it is hard to watch people self destruct. But it is interesting to look back at a time in history and see that some things have changed in the almost fifty intervening years. People have choices today that these characters did not have. Sometimes it is good to be reminded of the progress we have made.


  1. I am currently reading this book as well (only through Part 1) and am blown away by Yates' prose. Don't know why I had never heard of him before, and can't imagine how a book where so much occurs inside the characters' heads will translate to film.

  2. If you have read this book you might like the discussion at The New Yorker Book Club: