awakening from the uneasy dream of suburbia

Reading Yates is a lot like reading Kafka but without the fabular. The climate of Revolutionary Road is dominated by anxiety, self-contempt, and hopelessness. But Yates achieves these effects through a prose style that is classically realist. He presents characters and situations in a very simple, patient and deliberate manner, as he does here when describing the offices at the Knox Building:

Each [floor] was a big open room, ablaze with fluorescent ceiling lights, that had been divided into a maze of aisles and cubicles by shoulder-high partitions.

Like a cultural ethnographer, Yates captures details as though they were entirely foreign to him and might one day make perfect sense if only he’s immersed long enough in this strange world.

Even better than an ethnographer is the entomologist!

The waiting mid-town office buildings would swallow them up and contain them, so that to stand in one tower looking out across the canyon to another would be to inspect a great silent insectarium displaying hundreds of tiny pink men in white shirts, forever shifting papers and frowning into telephones, acting out their passionate little … show under the supreme indifference of the rolling spring clouds.

Because of his uncompromising realism, Yates never smirks at his characters. He never winks behind their backs. Unlike Frank Wheeler, whose rant against conventionality is itself a performance of conventionality, Yates chronicles the debilitating effects of what James Wood calls “suburban surrender” to achieve his final and greatest effect.

He’ll leave you wondering if April’s realization doesn’t apply to you, too.

“We’re just like the people you’re talking about! We are the people you’re talking about!”

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2 Responses to awakening from the uneasy dream of suburbia

  1. Anthony says:

    Omniscient narrators are sufficiently tedious, but those contemptuous of their subjects are plain irritating.

    I must read this one; it is on the shelves somewhere awaiting the memory of Kate Winslet to recede.

  2. Kinna says:

    I confess that I had not heard of Richard Yates prior to watching Revolutionary Road. I’ve promised myself a complete reading of his works and soon.

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