Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
First published: 1961 by Atlantic-Little, Brown
Number of pages: 352
My copy: belongs to my husband
Hailed as a masterpiece from its first publication, Revolutionary Road is the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright young couple who are bored by the banalities of suburban life and long to be extraordinary. With heartbreaking compassion and clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April’s decision to change their lives for the better leads to betrayal and tragedy.
This classic American book has been sat on my bookshelf for years and it has long been on my to be read list. My husband said it was brilliant, as did my sister, so I felt it was high time I gave it a go!
The book’s main focus is couple April and Frank Wheeler, who are disillusioned with their life in the suburbs with neighbours they see as boring, their two children and Frank’s mind-numbing job. The couple bicker all the time and there is a constant tension between them and the other couples they are friendly with. However, as the couple gradually hatches a plan to escape their suburban boredom, even more cracks start to show…
Once I started this book, I really got into it quickly and I found the scene set by Richard Yates to be quite fascinating, and I enjoyed reading about the couple stuck in a rut that is really of their own making. The characters are all pretty unlikeable and frustrating; they treat their children with disdain and seem to lack imagination. Frank takes great pride in the fact he does literally nothing at work, and I actually found the scenes describing how he has piles of papers that he shuffles around, with the most important going into a drawer to be ignored forever, to be quite amusing. I also liked the little routine he shared with his workmates, one of whom only likes to go to the lunch place that serves him copious amounts of alcohol.
We are also, later in the novel, introduced to John, who is the son of the Wheelers’ real-estate agent, and has had a nervous breakdown. He adds a new and interesting dimension to the book as he is the only character who really speaks his mind, and the words he speaks to April and Frank really ring true, despite his parents’ constant attempts to shut him up. He provides a stark and interesting contrast to the other characters in the book, who always strive to say the ‘right’ thing and, in doing so, hide their true feelings.
But despite all these positives, I did find myself losing interest towards the end of the book. I think with all the characters being so unlikeable – apart from straight-talking John – I did find myself struggling to really care about them. In fact I got to the point where I was so frustrated with them that I just wanted the book to end! So the ending, when it came, should have been quite hard-hitting but actually fell a bit flat for me as I was really struggling to stay interested at that point.
I felt a bit disappointed overall – not so much in the book itself but my reaction to it! There was a point where I was totally absorbed in it so I’m not really sure why, by the end, I had stopped caring. I think the fact that the characters are so unsympathetic just really got to me by the end and I found it impossible to feel sorry for any of them.
Despite this I would definitely check out more of Yates’s novels as I liked the style of writing and the setting of New York in the 1950s. I’m also keen to check out the film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslett, as I’m interested to see if the characters come across more sympathetically on screen.
My rating: 7 out of 10