REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates

Revroad200 I wanted to read Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, before I saw the movie, which came out last week. It had been on my TBR list for a long time, and the holiday release of the highly anticipated movie, starring a reunited Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, was good incentive for me to pick it up.

Revolutionary Road is about a young couple – April and Frank Wheeler – living in the New York suburbs in the 50s. Frank works for a business machine company, the same one his father worked for many years ago. April is a frustrated housewife with two small kids who finds living in the suburbs imprisoning and unfulfilling. Frank and April married young, and had kids earlier than they expected.  The book is about their unhappy marriage, and their increasing inability to communicate and satisfy each other. Frank and April seem incapable of connecting with each other unless they are belittling the suburban society that surrounds them, filled with office drones, pastel cookie-cutter homes, and women without ambition.

Yates is a precise, compelling writer, and despite the book's age (55 years) the narration felt fresh and current. I have to say, however, that I didn't love it. I know it is supposed to be a period piece, a statement about the 50s in America and the perils of conformity and materialism.  However, I found the book to be less universal than that. I read it as a sad story about two people whose marriage takes a few very tragic turns. April, especially, is a deeply troubled woman with issues that extend beyond Frank to her horrible parents and childhood. To me, this book was about the disintegration of a relationship. Perhaps the book was revolutionary at the time it was published, and its commentary about the lives of young, middle-class suburban Americans was jarring and new. Now, however, there have been so many expressions of rebellion against the 50s that this book seemed less powerful to me.

I am curious to see the movie, to see how faithful the script remains to the novel, and how Leo and Kate interpret these unhappy spouses. I am glad I read Revolutionary Road, and certainly found it hard to put down. But I didn't love it.

6 Comments

  • January 3, 2009 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    Some period pieces don’t survive all that well – I’d still like to read this one, though.

  • Kiki
    January 3, 2009 - 2:17 pm | Permalink

    This one has been on my TBR pile (yes, I actually have a copy of it!) for over a year, and I had no idea they were even making a movie until I saw the new movie tie-in version of the book at the book store where I work. I’ll try to read it first, since I don’t go to many movies anyway, and get the movie on Netflix, I suppose when it comes out on DVD. I am so behind on my movie watching, I can hardly see where it makes a difference!
    Glad you had a good time in CO! Happy New Year!

  • January 3, 2009 - 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been considering reading this, too, before seeing the movie — thanks for the review! I’ll try to move it up my TBR pile and see if I felt the same way!

  • January 3, 2009 - 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gayle. My husband and I actually saw this movie last night and we left the theater wondering if this was a situation where the book was so much better than the movie. I would not recommend the movie at all. Scene 1: Leo and Kate’s characters are young and happy; they meet at a party in the city and life seems grand. Scene 2 onward: Both characters are desperately unhappy, the marriage is falling apart (although there are no incidents in the movie that reveal why the marriage is struggling) and Kate’s character is crazy. The movie provides little to no background on the characters (it sounds like the book provides a little more of that, especially for Kate’s character), no character development, and no kind of explanation for the state of depression that everyone is in except for the fact that they’ve grown up and moved to the suburbs. For all of the unhappiness associated with children, the kids are only present in two or three scenes in the movie (and they are pretty well behaved in those scenes). As a viewer, it was hard to really understand what the problem was. And I found neither character to be particularly sympathetic.
    I’m glad to read your review. Now that I wasted two hours in the theater, I won’t waste any more time with the book. Kate and Leo are two of my favorites, so I’m sad to be so disenchanted with the movie.
    If you see the movie, will you consider writing a follow-up post? I’d love to hear how the book and movie differ.

  • January 7, 2009 - 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I saw the preview for this movie today. I had no idea it was based upon a book. I will have to check it out.

  • January 10, 2009 - 12:17 am | Permalink

    I really recommend his short stories–especially those from the collection “Eleven Kinds of Loneliness”. I think that Yates’s mastery of short fiction is compelling and among the very best of his time period.

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