Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

I got this for Christmas.  Dorothy Parker really liked it, but I didn’t think I would, due to the sadness.  On the other hand, I thought, it has layers, and I like layers.  On the other hand, they are layers of misery and depression and unlikeable characters; which is to say, not my favorite type of layers.

Revolutionary Road is all about this couple, Frank and April Wheeler (I just wrote Frank and Alice.  Twice.  Why does that sound so right?), who used to believe in their own independence of thought and action, but now they are living boring, stifling lives with two children and a white picket fence (so to speak) in 1950s suburbia.  They are always trying to maintain the illusion that they are somehow above these lives, better than their neighbors in some way, so the book is about the breakdown of that illusion.  Frank, who is in more denial about its illusory nature than April (I wrote Alice again!  Is there a couple called Frank and Alice that I can’t think of?), is the one whose point of view you get throughout the book.  And anyway they decide to move to Paris to escape from being boring.

See, it’s nifty.  It’s all about the ways that your freedom leads you into captivity, the tiny reasons for the things you choose, and how they can set you down a path to entrapment and stagnation.  Like, okay, when April gets pregnant with their first child, she comes to Frank and tells him all the steps she’s taken to finding how to abort it.  And Frank doesn’t want the baby either, but he’s mad that she acted so independently of him, so he decides to make a fuss about it, and they end up keeping the baby.  Which he didn’t want in the first place.  Voila, they are halfway to their life of suburban misery.  It’s that tension between freedom and confinement that drives the book.  All very interesting.

I really, really, really didn’t expect to like Revolutionary Road.  The whole time I was reading it, I was trying to think up interesting things to say about it, so that when the person who gave it to me asked whether I liked it, I’d be able to deflect the question by being insightful without actually saying whether I enjoyed it or not.  And for a while I really didn’t like it, because Frank and Alice – GOD.  Frank and April – just weren’t doing anything, apart from fighting and moaning about how lame their lives were.

BUT.  SPOILERS.  I read the end (after I’d got about ten pages in), so I knew April was going to abort her baby and die.  And that actually made the whole book much better, knowing that.  (My philosophy is proven right once again!)  Because Revolutionary Road is a tragedy, where you know it’s all going to end badly, but still, it always seems like it could turn out well – or at least okayish.  She is putting so much momentum into going to Paris, and you think it has to work out, because she wants it so much.  But no.  Too bad for her.  Anyway I don’t know if I will ever read this again, but it ended up being a really good book.  I copied a great big long passage of it into my commonplace book.

Longbottom.  Frank and Alice Longbottom.  Quite right too.

The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers

Sheesh, what is wrong with me?  This is the second book in the past week I haven’t been able to finish.  And honestly, not finishing books is pretty rare with me.  I swear!  If I make it past the first few pages, I tend to plow through to the end, because I want to know what happens, and because I am a completist.  To give you a comparison, I read like four of Anne Rice’s vampire books, which I never liked in the first place, before realizing I’d rather gouge my eyes out than read any more of them.  I don’t care if she is from Louisiana!  And I don’t care if Faulkner is either!  I like Tony Kushner and THAT IS ENOUGH FOR ME.

Anyway, I just really want to tell The Stress of Her Regard that it’s probably not you; it’s probably me.  I really think it might just be me.  I may not have given you a fair chance.  I was comparing you with Lonely Werewolf Girl, which I was reading at the same time I was reading you, and no new book could stand up against Lonely Werewolf Girl.  I was reading you and thinking of another book.  It was unfair to you.  You deserved better.

I read about The Stress of Her Regard on Nymeth’s blog, and I thought there could be no problem with it whatsoever at all.  It had Romantic poets, aaaaaaand vampires!  All the Romantic poets are being pestered by pestery vampires!  I don’t care enough about the Romantic poets to get cranky about their being portrayed “wrong”, which is something that would bother me if the characters were, like, Oscar Wilde and his lot.  And vampires!   And Nymeth said the mythology was a trifle complex, but I was all, Whatever, I will be able to follow it.  But damn, seriously, it was mighty complex.  And I was reading it like ten pages at a time, while brushing my teeth, and then a chapter or two before I went to sleep.  And sometimes I would skip a few nights and read Lonely Werewolf Girl instead.  So I think that screwed me up in terms of keeping track of who was doing what, and why.

All this to say that by the time I got to the bit where Shelley disguised his dead infant as a marionette, I was kinda ready to quit reading it anyway.  The bit where he disguised his dead infant as a marionette was mighty disturbing and creepy, and it gave me a nightmare.  So even though I think I was unfair to this book, I will probably not try reading it again because it will remind me of my terrifying puppet nightmare.

(I really did like the part where Crawford put his ring on the statue’s finger and then when he came back for it the statue’s hand had closed over the ring.  That was cool.)

I will just leave you with this thought, which is the only thing I can ever think of when I read about Byron or Shelley or Keats and consequently prevents me from taking them one bit seriously, ever:

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of lyrical treats
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Dear darling Dorothy Parker.  (Though Black Adder‘s portrayal of the Romantic poets has just put the nail in the coffin.  I can never, ever, ever, ever take those men seriously.  Ever.  Never ever never.  But I often like Coleridge.)