Friday, August 17, 2012

#59 - 'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates

April and Frank Wheeler appear to be doing well as they approach their 30's; they have two kids, Frank has a 'good' job, and they live in a nice house in the suburbs.  But like so many couples, the wear and tear of living a normal life has begun to drag them down.  This is the setting for my 59th read from Time's list of 100 All-Time Novels, Revolutionary Road.

Before they had kids, before they were married, April and Frank felt they were better than the average couple, smarter and more sophisticated.  The world was to be their oyster, living the dream, destined for greatness.  But after a few years, the responsibilities of having a mortgage, having kids, and having a job, have made them wonder what happened to their dreams.

While they are seemingly happy on the surface, the weight of these realities has begun to make their lives completely different from what they had planned.  But when April suggests they move to Paris and allow Frank to find a great job he enjoys, things begin to look up for the Wheelers.  Moving to Europe would free them from the shackles of suburban life and free them from the rut they find themselves in.

Revolutionary Road was a great novel in every respect, taking the reader on a emotional roller coaster through the ups and downs of suburban life in the 1950's.  Despite knowing things would probably not work out for the Wheelers, there was always a glimmer of hope.  Just when it seemed things all hope was lost, something would happen to make me think everything might work out.  Of course every high was short-lived and the inevitable downfall would continue, descending lower and lower each time.

The Wheelers are very complete characters, realistic in their interactions with each other, their neighbors and co-workers.  Their problems were ones that seemed so normal, unlike the extraordinary circumstances characters from so many other books find themselves in.  This always made it easy to relate to their situation and ensured I was always sympathetic to their plight, and always hopeful they could find a way out.  But unlike characters in movies, they are real people, who don't have all the answers and are as afraid of the future as any of us.  Through their ups and downs, they never seem unrealistic, even if their aspirations do.  Just as with so many people, who dream of bigger and better things, they cling to the faint possibility, even though they know deep down it is unlikely to ever happen.

As I was warned, it was a depressing story, perhaps even more so than I thought it would be.  But I suppose so many good books are, which is often what makes them great; they don't wrap everything up in a neat little package.  The sadness described in Revolutionary Road is so realistic it reads almost as a cautionary tale instead of merely a fictional tragedy.  Perhaps this is what made it such a downer.  While many tragedies are entertaining in their story, they might not be a situation someone will ever find themselves in.  But the story in Revolutionary Road seems to be one that anybody could fall into.  While both April and Frank have their faults, I was never sure which side I should take in their marital struggles.  And I think that was the most depressing part of their story; neither of them was really at fault, it was just the hard reality of life, that everything doesn't always work out.  No matter how much they or I hoped it would.

For my 60th, which is a milestone of sorts I suppose, I am going to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  I am quite familiar with the movie and will assume the book is more or less the same story.  Yes, I will assume.    

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