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.