Revolutionary Road

Note: I very rarely (willingly) read books that have been hyped up like mad — like many people, it actually kind of turns me off. The only exception I’ve made in the past is for The Silence of the Lambs. Neil was suitably impressed by I am Legend to get the book, and I’ve read that since.

I wasn’t keen on reading Revolutionary Road until I kept seeing references to Yates as this lost American literary legend, so I stuck it on my wishlist and my sister got me a copy for Christmas.

The book opens with a play rehearsal and within two chapters I’m already feeling the pain and the drain of a young couple settling down far too early.

This is one of those books where, in the grand scheme of things, nothing much happens (until the end). But it is Yates’ talent that makes this utterly staid suburban couple living a life they didn’t think they would, should, or could have so incredibly painful and (I’m going to say it) unputdownable.

Frank and April Wheeler inspire so much empathy. Although it’s set in the Fifties, people haven’t changed that much. Social mores are different (no pregnant woman would be seen drinking and smoking these days without attracting demon glares from strangers), but our childish hopes and dreams and the capacity to delude ourselves haven’t gone away.

How many of us have ‘fallen into’ careers or ended up with someone only because it seemed like the thing to do at the time? Can we truly make peace with this sort of pragmatism, all day, every day? How far will we go to follow our adolescent dreams?

Spoilers come next.

My heart broke for April, and it broke even more for Frank. They were a young couple who got in too deep, too soon. Most people (in real life) can and do live with it, sometimes they even settle into a bored contentment, favouring stability over searching for that ideal life (I call it The Singaporean Condition). Frank seemed to be this way. April was so desperately unhappy with unfulfilled potential — I know I would die if I was in her situation, stuck in a marriage I didn’t really want with two children I wasn’t ready to have.

But that’s where it particularly sucks. There was nothing wrong with them — on the surface. If a couple like this made the news these days, people would talk about them in the same way. I think that is Yates’ gift; Revolutionary Road is a book of its time, which is any time.