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Review: Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

Frank and April Wheeler are desperately unhappy.  Married for the sake of their children, living lives that they believe are meaningless, in a suburban town full of similar ordinary couples, they are both clamoring inwardly for a change.  They believe they are superior to their neighbors and are determined to prove it.  April comes up with the genius idea of uprooting and moving to France, where she can work and Frank can find the intellectual fulfillment that he’s always longed for.  Unfortunately, this plan sets the couple on a path to their own personal tragedy.

This is a deft, amazing book.  Frank and April despair at the ordinariness of their neighbors in the suburbs, lamenting the blandness and sameness of their lives, but the reader knows better.  Yates treats us to an inside view of the Wheelers’ closest neighbors, and we learn that one of their friends mistakenly believes he is in love with April, while the other older couple has a son committed to a mental institution.  When that son starts to espouse the same views that Frank and April have, we begin to realize that everyone is slightly off-kilter here.  Everyone is unhappy and dissatisfied.  Frank and April are deluded by their own aspirations into thinking that they’re better than their neighbors, when really they quite simply belong.  They believe they’re extraordinary, but over the course of the novel, we realize that they are perfectly ordinary.  They fit right in.

It is certainly those ordinary characters that succeed as the huge draw for this novel.  Their humanity is overwhelmingly real.  Frank, for example, is insufferably arrogant at times, and totally misguided about almost everyone he interacts with, but few people set him straight.  Worse, he says one thing and thinks another.  He claims to want to go to France and find himself, but it becomes clear very early on that he’s actually quite satisfied with his job.  He’s bored but he doesn’t want to disturb the status quo; he believes he is special, but he isn’t going to put forth the effort to actually prove it.  Perhaps he knows it isn’t true, even as he’s unwilling to admit it.  April seeks to recapture something with her acting and briefly succeeds, only to become an embarrassing failure when she doesn’t actually prove to be as spectacular as she’d hoped.  Their lives are empty and they are always seeking, but never finding.

Of course, the book is very well written, and in the one instance that I’d have loved to share passages, the book had to go back to the library.  Regardless, I could easily place myself in these characters’ shoes and there wasn’t anything that threw me out of the story.  The eeriest part about it is that Revolutionary Road makes us think about our own lives and those of our neighbors.  Frank and April are still very relevant almost fifty years on as people consistently search for meaning in their lives.  It often seems that we are all on a quest for fulfillment and in that respect, this book’s message is haunting, reminding us to seek happiness in what we have and not what is constantly out of reach.

*I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from the library.

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