Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

The meaning of marriage is threatened by ambiguity.

Here’s how it happens.

Boy meets girl. Then boy compliments girl. Shy and insecure, girl basks in boy’s attention. She returns the compliment. He’s pleased, too. Their dependence grows. They touch (and then some). She gets knocked up and they marry. Boy, now a young man, takes a dreary white-collar job. It bores him to tears, but it pays the bills. They buy a house and have another kid. They feign interest in their neighbors—and in each other. Smiling but dissatisfied, they live the American Dream. That is, suburban somnolence reigns supreme.

Actor substitution please

It’s 1955 in western Connecticut. The boy and girl are Frank and April Wheeler. They enjoy all the accoutrements of middle-class life, wide automobiles “gleaming in the colors of candy and ice cream,” colored plastic cups, stainless steel, roast lamb, and a bright clean quiet house with a barbecue pit in the Revolutionary Hill Estates. 

But they are profoundly unhappy.

To recapture their zest for life, April persuades Frank to move to Europe. But when a third pregnancy scuppers their plan, April is disgusted by her accidental marriage, her accidental life. So she induces a mid-term abortion that goes horribly awry.  

Lights, camera, action

The ambiguity of their marriage consists in the fact that Frank is nobody, although he believes he’s somebody, i.e., a man bravely at a war with mediocrity and “these damn little suburban types,“ and April flat-out doesn’t know who she is. They’re unable to relate to other people. Instead, they adopt theatrical poses with their friends and neighbors—and with each other, even in the intimacy of their own home.

One of the finest things about Revolutionary Road is the way Yates depicts play-acting by using the language of theater. Characters “rehearse” and then “botch their lines.” They engage in “false theatrical gestures” and “curtain-call smiles,“ and develop “scripts” and “pictures” in their heads for how the future will unfold but are ultimately disappointed by the “shock of reality,” as though emerging from a movie house, blinking at the bright light of day.


5 Responses to Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

  1. Fiona Bell says:

    This book is on my list! I have seen the film adaptation, which was very depressing, but the novel sounds like it would elucidate their relationship more. The film just made me never want to marry.

  2. The novel made me never want to marry either of those people.

    I so wish they had gone to Europe. A different novel, a comic masterpiece.

  3. Richard says:

    The film just sounded like so much yelling to me from the other room, but my wife insisted it was good and wanted to read the novel afterward. Sort of an awkward Xmas present, but there you go! Glad to have a second opinion that this is a worthwhile read…

  4. Oh, I do wish I could strike theatrical poses – ‘twould make life so much less somnolent! Clearly I need to read this book and see the movie – so far I’ve managed to not do both despite a wish to the contrary.

  5. […] Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates explores inauthenticity without employing this jargonistic term. Thankfully. […]

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