The 1950’s were generally known as the years of prosperity, economic growth, suburban development and opportunity for all. It is remembered as an era of pure, simple family life, little divorce, few unwed mothers, housewives in floral dresses and crisp clean aprons sending their hard working men off to white and blue collar jobs. I’ve got visions of Mom spending her days in the kitchen whipping up gourmet meals and clean, well-mannered, soft spoken, happy children innocently playing in the background. But in Richard Yates view, this was all an illusion.
Revolutionary Road is the story of Frank and April Wheeler. On the surface they fit the description of the stereotypical couple of the 1950’s, living in the suburbs of Connecticut, raising their children. They are successful, happy and content. But look beneath the shiny veneer and you see two very unhappy people struggling in a dysfunctional marriage.
Frank was in love with the idea of love. He wanted a meaningful relationship and craved affection. A Columbia Grad, he thought he scored the prettiest girl in town when he married April, a charming and aspiring young actress. He had big ideas for their life together but he lacked confidence, and his fear of failure and rejection paralyzed him into a lack of ambition, skepticism, and disdain for playing by the rules. At home he lacked honest communication with April and his impatience and temper prevented a good relationship with his young children. Had Revolutionary Road been made into a movie in the 1950’s it would have been an academy award winning role for James Dean.
April clearly was a troubled soul. No past experiences ever prepared her for the simple suburban life, being a devoted wife and attentive mother. Frank and April were both searching for something just out of reach, burying their loneliness in meaningless affairs, alcohol, and elusive dreams of grandeur. Their marriage seems doomed to failure. It is hard to understand what attracted them to each other in the first place. But to admit they are not in love, is to admit failure. So they struggle along with the tedium of their live in a charade, trying to convince themselves that life will get better.
The supporting characters are vivid, real people; their friends, Frank’s work cronies, the voluptuous secretary, the busy-body neighbor lady and her mentally challenged son.
It is easy to understand why Yates is sometimes compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald. His prose is crystal clear, exact, and concise. Every word directing the reader towards the climax, and as with Nicole and Dick Diver in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, it is no surprise when Frank and April’s relationship spirals out of control. My copy of this novel is in the Everyman’s Library (three in one) Edition that includes The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, and there is a definite common thread of bleak realism.
Rated 4.5 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish; books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.