Book: Revolutionary Road
Author: Richard Yates
Published: 1961 (Random House)
In April and Frank Wheeler, Richard Yates has managed to keep a cliché fresh for fifty years without doing anything except being a good writer: the unhappy suburban couple who think they’re special and gradually, painfully, angstily figure out they’re just like everyone else. And then they break down, all without ever knowing the exact reasons why.
But Yates knows. He knows exactly what’s going on in their heads. He knows better than they do why Frank took a steady job at his dad’s firm as almost a joke that would let him keep his intelligence free to roam where it wanted. Which was nowhere. Yates knows exactly how April feels about motherhood—she really wants to like it, but it snuck up on both of them too soon and at heart she’s too practical to keep herself from doing the most straightforward thing to do this how she wants it, and that’s what leads to her ultimate tragedy. He knows how stifling the suburbs are but also how the kind of people who feel stifled there will find some way to be stifled anywhere they live.
He splays all of this onto the page with intricate , precise explanations that leave the emotional heavy lifting to the characters as they work themselves deeper and deeper into knots.
Why is this so comforting to read?
Because I recognize myself in this. I’m like these people. But I haven’t killed myself over it, and maybe if I read about them enough I’ll internalize their warning signs and go the other way. Maybe I can carry on the American dream they fumbled.
Because good writing, no matter how depressing the end or subject, is like a giant prolonged hug from my very best friend.
Because I’m avoiding Sidhartha and the enlightenment that’s supposed to come with it.