Those of us who were raised in the 1950's and 1960's tend to see suburbia through the eyes of Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and the Dick Van Dyke Show. Dad went into the city every day to his job. Mom stayed home with the 2.5 kids. Everybody was happy and the problems were solved in a half hour.
But then we pick up something like Revolutionary Road. Frank Wheeler works in the city. April Wheeler stays in their home in Connecticut with their two young children. This wasn't the life they had planned while they were dating. But April got pregnant, they got married, and Frank got a job at the company where his father had worked. April had wanted to be an actress although she would never have been a star.
Frank works in the Sales Promotion department for a business machine company in 1955. He hates his job and isn't even sure what he does all the time except shuffle papers. He works in a cubicle farm with two people per cubicle. There is that pretty receptionist, though - Maureen...
April is vaguely dissatisfied at home, taking care of their home. She hadn't wanted children but is happy with Jennifer and Michael. Yet her life isn't what she wants. When the neighborhood put together a community theater, she was involved and became the lead in their premiere (and last) show. Now she doesn't even have that.
They have been friends with the Campbells for a few years. Even that relationship is strained as each of them begin to realize they're not the witty, urbane people they had planned to be. Frank and April are arguing more often and more loudly at home. They need to make some changes in their lives. April believes she has the solution and makes Frank believe it can happen. Can they escape the lives they have shaped for themselves; can they break the mold and reestablish themselves in new, more acceptable patterns?
Richard Yates' novel was nothing like I expected. I admit I didn't know anything about the story at all. But the movie was recently made with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. I was sure it was a romance story. The Wheelers in Revolutionary Road are well past the romance and do not like their real lives. They are not likeable characters.
They are real characters, though. Yates makes (made?) me feel like I know and understand the Wheelers. The emptiness of their lives is striking from about page 10 of the book on. Even when they patch things up, a lack is nagging in the background. It focuses on Frank, so the reader gets his viewpoint the most. Occasionally, though, the viewpoint switches to another character - the older couple who hopes Frank and April can help their disturbed son, Shep Campbell, the husband of their best friends, and April. The children are there, but usually in the background. They're the glue that has kept the Wheelers together, but even that is wearing thin.
This is a well written, fascinating book. And I didn't like it. I didn't like the characters. I kept wanting to shake them. (Of course, as I look back, I'm afraid I can identify with some of April's feelings and thoughts...) If you want a happily-ever-after book, this isn't it. If you want a challenging, believable book, enjoy Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road.
Notice: Suggestive dialogue or situations
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These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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