617 of 630 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2003
Reading the praise for this book actually made me less inclined to read it. Another unmasking of the banality of the suburbs and the bland conformity of the 50s didn't strike me as particularly appealing or necessary. Both of those things have been unmasked so often that I wonder why anyone bothers with either; there's nothing left to expose.
The choice of target is also a little unfair: first, hypocrisy and small-mindedness are not localized in the suburbs to the extent that authors and filmmakers seem to think. If a writer deliberately populates his story with caricatured materialistic bourgeois, then he shouldn't expect it to be a legitimate criticism of the age. In any case, if an audience can separate themselves too easily from the people being described, the book has no sting - like American Beauty had no sting. A real work of art should hurt a little.
But Revolutionary Road was not what I expected from the reviews. Yates knows all of the pitfalls of the standard send-up of the middle class: the main characters in his story are not the usual suburban types, but people who consider themselves better than the dull people in their neighborhood; they mock the people that we, as readers, are so used to mocking, and become our surrogates.
The real theme of this book is much deeper, and it transcends the era and even the plot of the book: what do people do when they are intelligent and spirited enough not to be satisfied with the conformity and blandness of their surroundings, but lack the drive to ever escape mediocrity, because they are, fundamentally, much more a part of their environment than they imagine?
The tragedy of this book is the discovery that you are, after all, perhaps not as extraordinary as you thought - and that has sting, because all of us, at some time, have thought that we were a bit better than the people around us, and most of us have realized with horror (although the realization doesn't always stick around) that we aren't as different, as far above them, as we thought. Many of the moments in this book stick with you because they remind you of those moments when you came face to face with your own mediocrity, and challenges you to either be honest with yourself about what you are, or try sincerely to fulfill the ambitions that you have pursued so halfheartedly until now.
It's a hard lesson to deal with: I can tell why this book didn't sell. The writing, by the way, is beautiful; scene after scene springs effortlessly to life, and you can't tell how much skill is involved until you go back and read it again.
I remember reading once that Yates - against the advice of his publishers - called this book Revolutionary Road because it seemed to him that the promise of the nation was petering out in the 50s, that the ambition and hope that had marked its founding had slowly led to a dead-end of uninspired and uninspiring prosperity (for some people, at least) - that the end of the revolutionary road had been reached.
This is overstated, and Yates's vision often seems to me unaccountably dark, as if he was blind to everything but his thesis. Something about his outlook is right, though; the problem with the society isn't necessarily that it's hypocritical or conformist or mediocre, but that it produces people with such a horrible gap between aspiration and capacity - it gives them the leisure and intelligence to want a fuller life while robbing them of the backbone to get it.
85 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
A good job, a pretty wife, nice kids, and a home in the suburbs. This novel, written in 1961, is about a couple that lives this American Dream. But this pre-yuppie pair leads a life of exquisite monotony. He hates his white-collar job; she stays home with the kids. One of their most frequent recreational activities is to visit with another similar couple, and spend a few hours shaking their heads and complaining about how unevolved everyone else is. We smile ruefully as we read about them, thinking how common these folks are. Or have we fallen into a trap by putting ourselves in the same place by looking down on Frank and April as they look down on others.
Frank and April Wheeler look forward to things: a part in a little theater play, a move to Paris, an affair, a promotion. It would seem, though, that for them happiness is only in the anticipation of events. The story's participants also are deeply into playing roles with their spouses, their co-workers, their friends, and above all with themselves. There is no one in this book that you want to identify with. Why? Is it because they are poor, hopelessly lost dullards, or is it because they represent us in too many unpleasant ways? It's a sad story, but one that makes you think about your own life, and the ultimate value of what you have accomplished. While some of our culture has changed since this book was written (we no longer sit in hospital waiting rooms smoking cigarettes), its theme is as modern as can be.
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2005
When you say the name Richard Yates today you usually get blank stares. If you say Bellow, Cheever, Updike, Roth or Styron you get knowing nods. Yet Yates, to my mind, is easily the equal to any of the aforementioned names and belongs on the same literary shelf. He failed to find a wide and general fame before he died in 1992 (though, I believe, this book was up for the National Book Award in 1961 alongside Catch-22), and it is only recently that his name is being revived. He is revered by writers such as Tobias Wolff and Andre Dubus (who was a student of Yates').
Without Yates there is no Raymond Carver; he was the natural heir to Fitzgerald and mentor to those writers willing to take up a dangerous literary thread: the exploration of the depths of our self-delusion, our virtually incessant need for self-validation, and most importantly, our progressive moral disintegration. Never flashy in his style, nor even particularly poetic or lyrical, spare in his descriptions which seem, in spite of their austere quality, to strike the mark with a terrible sharpness, Yates was a great genius of plain prose. His writing is like a bear trap, hidden in the leaves, waiting to slam shut and catch the reader completely unawares. This kind of writing should have gained a wider readership, but it did not. Perhaps because, like the bear trap, when it closes on you, it hurts.
I myself had not been aware of Yates at all (something a writer friend found incomprehensible) until it was suggested I read Revolutionary Road. I read it, and I still have not recovered. Revolutionary Road is considered by many to be Richard Yates' best work. I think it is probably that and a lot more.
This book is one of the most powerful works of fiction I have ever read and certainly belongs in the company of the best American fiction written after WWII. I say that without hyperbole. Yates was as close to genius as any of his contemporaries, and this book in particular is written so close to the bone that, after I had finished it I wondered how Yates himself survived the effort. Apparently he did, but only just. I do not know if I have ever used the word masterpiece in any of my Amazon reviews; I don't think so. I would like to use it now. This book is a masterpiece. This book reads like a string of thoughts coming from inside the reader's own mind. It's that good. And the end is so powerful that I found myself weeping. I felt as though I had been waylaid, sucker punched. I did not expect anything like that to happen.
Having said that, it should not be thought that this book is some kind of "downer." It is way beyond those kinds of simplistic descriptions, besides which, it is often very funny. The portraits of middle-class American people of the 1950's are concise and devastatingly honest. Depending upon where you are in your own life at the time you read it, it will obvously have different effects. Some people may hate it. For me it was nothing short of life-changing. I know that sounds exaggerated, but that is the effect this great work had on me. I encourage anyone who is interested in what great fiction writing really is supposed to be to read Revolutionary Road. Along with all these tags I have used, great, genius, masterpiece, etc., it should be remembered that the writing in Revolutionary Road is extremely accessible. The sentences flow effortlessly, the book has its own momentum.
It should not be taken - from this review - that Revolutionary Road is one more swipe at an old and obvious target, the alienated middle class suburbians who have had a bullseye on their backs for generations of authors, nor is it merely another scathing attack on the emotionally-removed characters of the soul-barren Fifties (though I must take pains here to mention that the author himself said exactly that, "I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the nineteen-fifties.") While this is certainly a clear enough statement and we should take the author at his word, as a reader I have to take exception to this extent: the layers and depths Yates has uncovered propose - I believe - a greater intellectual and emotional map than even he had intended. While it is, as he says, an "indictment," it is also a deeply compassionate book. The author's own pain at writing this shows a soul who is both furiously angry and filled with loathing yet desperately and almost fatally loving. So great is his skill that both these irresolvably conflicted emotions are able to co-exist on the page. Yates knew this life, and he seems to feel what the people he writes about here feel. He is not superior to his characters but lives in their skin. Rather than taking a broad brush to it, he goes at it with a finer tool and teases up the nuances so often lacking in the more obvious fiction of the genre. Once I had read the first sentence I felt a kinship with the writer. I was hooked. I hope this happens for you.
NB: I have altered the last paragraph of my review slightly in order to include some of the information and insights which I have recently gained as a result of having read the brilliant and searing biography of Yates by Blake Bailey called, "A Tragic Honesty". I do suggest that the reader familiarize himself with Yates's work first by reading three or four of his novels and his collection of short stories before tackling this very well-written (and in its own right, painfully revealing) biography.
128 of 137 people found the following review helpful
Richard Yates is not as well known as many other mid-20th century novelists, but he certainly should be. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is as well written and intriguing a book as you're ever likely to read - a true modern classic. The plot concerns the increasingly unhappy marriage between surbanites Frank and April Wheeler. Many other authors have explored similar territory, notably John Updike (e.g., "Couples"). However, no one has done so with such deft and beautiful writing. The plot is ultimately somewhat incidental, and you'll likely figure out the resolution quite early. However, the brilliantly realized characters, including friends and neighbors of the Wheelers, make the book so worthwhile.
The meaning of the book is likely to vary for different readers; for example, many people may see a scathing yet subtle indictment of suburban life and values. However, I read it more as as screed against the dangers of being unnecessarily dissatisfied with your life, particularly expecting brilliance where none exists. Whatever meaning you attribute to the novel, it's extraordinary. Most highly recommended!!!
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2001
I am so grateful to Allen Smalling, Amazon Reviewer, whose fine review led me to buy and read this excellent story. Much has been made of its 50's, suburban setting; yet the characters are timeless. Frank & April, Shep & Molly, Mr. & Mrs. Givings are alive and not-so-well and among us today. One thing that struck me was the characters have been described as "materialistic." Compared to Americans of the 21st century, they only had the smallest notion of what true materialism is all about. They seem curiously innocent in that respect.
Richard Yates is a giant of a writer who will make his way to the short list of great authors of the 20th century. His capturing of the momentary feeling, the basic sham of the faces we present to the world cut very close to the bone. Frank Wheeler receives the worst drubbing from readers and critics, I believe because we all see ourselves in Frank, and do not like what we observe. Frank is a man capable of introspection, and his small façade as an intellectual, brilliant misfit in a dead-end job is not despicable, only mediocre, and he sees his own mediocrity. This is what makes us uncomfortable, and what is painful, we dislike. Shep is the flip side of Frank, but his face to the world is one of a regular guy, straight talking, practical and dependable; he is truly a sensitive romantic who has thrown his life away to be someone he doesn't even like very well. Somehow we forgive Shep, but not Frank. Mr. Yates does not have the same sure hand with the females; they do not come to life like the men. The use of John Givings, the mad man as the catalyst and truth-sayer is a brilliant novelistic device.
I thought of John Marquand and John Cheever who were roughly contemporaneous with Richard Yates. They had many of the same concerns, but did not have the incisiveness, humor and depth of Yates. You not only will enjoy the read, but I am sure will want to re-read and reflect upon this powerful novel.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2000
The rare book, that is actually better the second time through. Of all of Yates works, this is his favorite, and he has often been quoted as saying he was "cursed to write his best book first." The story of the Wheelers and all of their shortcomings is not so much about everything that is wrong with the suburbs, but everything that is wrong with many of the people who live there. Yates uses his knack for creating memorable, flawed characters that make fascinating mess out of their very believable lives. Frank is the perfect coward, who stays in a job he hates, cheats on his wife, and has no relationship with his children, while his wife April is self-centered, moody and does not want to take responsibiliy for her own life. The novel is brilliantly constructed, and has peeripheral characters as interesting and deep as the central ones. This book is as good as anything written in the last 50 years. Unfortunately, Richard Ford's introduction offers nothing to this edition, but it is still nice to see this great novel back in print.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2006
As other reviewers have noted,this is a book that deserves to be on every serious fiction writer's wish list...as in "I WISH I could write like Richard Yates." His genius, it seems to me, lies in his ability to inhabit each character without pretense or affectation. And the theme he wrestles with, that all of us long to be "first rate" but lack the courage to define and authenticate our lives, is poignantly familiar to us all. As strivers who need external validation of our notions of success, we are more content to please our peers than to risk their disapproval and alienation. So we become the very bland stereotypes of mediocrity Frank and April Wheeler revile in their private conversations, contemptuous stage whispers that only underscore the depth of their own self-loathing. The looming, inevitable tragedy of the Wheelers makes societal rubberneckers of us all...theirs is a slow-motion car crash we can't take our eyes off of. To put the reasons for the Wheelers' crack-up in perspective, it helps to remember the words of Joan Didion who, while crediting the insights of Betty Friedan's "Feminine Mystique," recognized that "it is possible for people to be the unconscious instruments of values they would strenuously reject on a conscious level..." Neither April or Frank or any of the other main characters has the courage to leave the vapid predictability of their emotional cul-de-sac sane and alive. Richard Yates knows where staying on their familiar road will take them, and it is anything but revolutionary. The irony is not lost on us; it is the neighborhood, and the nation, we have resigned ourselves to live in.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2008
As several others have noted, if you like the show Mad Men you'd probably be interested in reading Revolutionary Road. However, this novel makes Mad Men look like Happy Days (but let's hope Mad Men doesn't jump the shark!) It's pretty damned dark. Written in 1961, it starkly portrays a not-so-young suburban couple completely disaffected with their lovely house, comfortable income, adoring friends, affable neighbors, easygoing bosses, unbelievably well-behaved kids, and unprecedented Postwar American peace and prosperity. (Presumably they also have problems with mid-century modern architecture, cool jazz, early rock-and-roll, and a new Alfred Hitchcock movie every year. What a drag.) So disgusted with the godawful daily grind of living the American Dream, all they can do is scream at each other, drink themselves to sleep every night, and plan to move to France. Hello, what's their problem? Well, the Wheelers' problem has nothing to do with living in "Conformist" 1950's Connecticut or any other place and time. It has everything to do with: phenomenal self-delusion, reflexive deception, semi-functioning alcoholism, crappy childhoods, nonexistent parenting skills, and -- most of all -- a truly deeply messed-up marriage. It's A Classic for good reason: extremely well-written, compelling, and brutally honest. Well worth reading, but not much fun.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2003
This book is priceless. If you are a writer, if you even fancy yourself a bit ot a word-smith, you need to pick up this book. I consider myself a pretty well-read guy, and I have never read anything more technically sound, more painstakingly thought out, or more tediously true and on point. Yates uses a cast of characters that all delicately mesh together. Either they somehow share the same worldview, or the same idiosycnricies or share similar heartaches or just plain have dramatic, traumatic lives. In short, his characters are distinctly, almost painfully humane and fully round. And Yates takes the time to develop each character from the inside out and then back outside to in. I guess it's harder to explain than I expected but, trust me, this book is a tremendous read. Richard Yates' is a wrier's writer if that's what you want to call him. He leaves the reader saying "what he just did there, that point of view switch, that throughline, is f-ing amazing!" He blew me away. And the dialogue is effortless and perfect. You will love this tale, mostly becuase of the characters, but hidden between the lines is a beautiful little lesson in love.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2006
I had to keep looking at the copyright date of this book to make sure it really was published in 1961 instead of 2001; Yates so perfectly constructs its period that it's fun to ponder how brutally honest "Revolutionary Road" must have seemed when it first appeared on bookshelves. In this tale chronicling the now cliched "dark side of suburbia", Yates brilliantly narrates the story of April and Frank Wheeler, characters who exist in 1955 yet whose internal struggles are timeless. Yates casts a wary, but never harshly judgemental, eye on the post-War American rituals of the cocktail hour, bridge games with neighbors, the obsession with having a well-trimmed lawn and turns them inside out, revealing the often ugly truths underneath, much in the way Grace Metalious had on rural life a few years earlier with "Peyton Place".
But Yates does more with the story than write a simple blow by blow account of a family's disintegration; the author's prose is some of the most descriptive and lyrical that I have come across in some time. Yates assigns such tragic weight to the Wheeler household, and the environs of their developing Connecticut suburb, so deeply that the fall of this family could have occurred on Faulkner's watch.
I think almost every generation belives they have been the ones to "discover" the ugly truths of suburban life; that it can be bland and soulless, when more attention is paid to the material needs and the individual triumphs in his own isolation. The truth is that these ideas and more have been a critique of the United States suburban developments since they were first developed en masse in the post-war boom. This novel anticipates books like Betty Friedan's 1963 polemic, "The Feminine Mystique", a book one can easily imagine April Wheeler devouring, and the social tumult of the 1960s.
It is amazing how contemporary this novel *still* feels in the era of McMansions and SUV's. There persists in many that uncomfortable feeling; that though one may think we're above it all, that we are smarter or more cultured than our neighbors, the underlying fear that we are really just the same as everybody else is an unspoken fear that "Revolutionary Road" taps into perfectly. It mights make us a little uncomfortable, but a shake up in our consciousness can always be good.
I enjoyed this novel immensely and am glad Yates is getting some posthumous recognition as an important American writer.