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Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road (original 1961; edition 2000)

by Richard Yates

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5,314215828 (4.04)270
Title:Revolutionary Road
Authors:Richard Yates
Info:Vintage (2000), Paperback, 355 pages
Collections:Your library

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Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961)

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Revolutionary Road -- Set in 1955, portrait of American suffocating, grinding conformity. Author Richard Yates on his novel: "I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs—a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price." Republished as part of the 1980s Vintage Contemporaries series, Revolutionary Road is, for my money, the Great American 1950s Novel. Richard Yates at his finest, a true classic. In the spirit of freshness, I will shift the focus from the story of main characters Frank and April Wheeler to various ways the novel depicts 1950s American society and culture:

THE ALMIGHTY AUTOMOBILE – “Once their cars seemed able to relax in an environment all their own, a long bright valley of colored plastic and plate glass and stainless steel.” Yates’ description here after those 1950s cars are off winding, bumpy, narrow streets and onto the spanking new wide highway. Back in 1955 there still existed a contrast between narrow dirt roads and car-friendly highways and freeways. Richard Yates foresaw how the automobile would quickly come to rule and how American men and women could then relax behind the wheel and feel at home on the many smooth, newly constructed car-dominated roads.

WORRYWARTS – Frank spends all his work day anticipating April in her evening dramatic premier: “A mental projection of scenes to unfold tonight but nowhere in these plans did he foresee the weight and shock of reality.” Frank is a college graduate but hasn’t learned a fundamental, critical truth: constantly projecting your life into the future is a sure-fire formula for disappointment. And all during April’s actual performance Frank incessantly bites his nails and gnaws on his fist until it’s a raw, red pulp. Such anxiety and insecurity – Frank typifies the 1950s emotionally distraught worrywart. As Richard Yates notes above, a society of such worrywarts will cling to safety and security at any price.

LOGORRHEA – “Could you please stop talking.” So asks April of Frank ridding home after her theatrical disaster. She doesn’t realize she is asking the impossible since this is America 1955 where silence has become the dreaded enemy; an entire society of know-it-alls drowning in their own chatter. Talk as a prime tool to establish how absolutely right you are. And if anyone else doesn’t see it your way or dares to disagree, God help them, they must be quickly set straight. Yak, yak, yak, jabber, jabber, jabber, fueled by those two prime 1950s pick-me-ups: chain smoking and martinis.

BABBITT LIVES – Frank and April’s suburban realtor, a two-faced, despicable, intrusive gatekeeper of the growing suburbs, Mrs. Givings, runs around doing her best to make sure new residents equate personal value with real estate value. Frank’s inability to stand up to this loutish, boorish woman speaks volumes to his insecurity and pitiful lack of character.

A WOMAN’S PLACE – Nowhere is Frank’s hypocrisy and ugly ego on display more than in his dealings with his wife, April. Frank condescendingly snickers at the middle-class mentality and lifestyle where “Daddy is always the great man and Mommy always listens to Daddy and sticks by his side” but Frank quickly boils over into a rage at those times when April doesn’t do exactly that, listen to him and sticks by his side. Turns out, April is quite capable of speaking her own mind, especially in matters of importance such as dealing with her pregnancy and the decision to have a child. This novel captures how the 1950s scream out for much needed women’s liberation.

TELEVISION RULES – Frank and April’s choice to have a TV in their new suburban house: “Why not? Don’t we really owe it to the kids? Besides, it’s silly to go on being snobbish about television.” The author's penetrating insight into 1950s mentality: educated men and women want to scoff at television, thinking their tastes much too cultivated and refined to constantly stare passively at the boob tube, but that’s exactly what they do for hours and hours. “Owe it to the kids” – sheer balderdash.

THE WORLD OF MEN AND GIRLS – Every single scene in Frank’s midtown Manhattan office is a revealer of the strict stratification in the grey flannel 50s - men doing the serious work on this side; girls performing secretarial and filing on that side. And it goes without saying every single person in the office is white. Frank’s father’s name was Earl, a serious handicap in a world of Jims, Teds, Toms, Mikes and Joes, since in workplace USA men are called by their shortened first names. Ah, to make such a big deal over names! Just goes to show how suffocating and strict the conformity. Sidebar: I always have found it amusing that as soon as the post-1950s business world discovered women will work harder than men, generally do a better job than men and work for a lot less pay then men, all of a sudden, surprise, surprise, huge shift in the American workforce.

TRUE REBELION AND PSYCHIATRY – Serious energy is infused into Yates’ story when April and especially Frank are given a dose of what it really means to rebel against standardized, conventional society: John Givings, fresh from a mental hospital, pays a number of visits to their home. In the black-and-white 1950s world, if someone had to be dragged off to a mental hospital aka nut house, loony bin, funny farm, that person was instantly labeled totally insane or completely crazy, placed on the same level as a leper in a leper colony. And God help the poor soul who is told they should see a psychiatrist. In the 1950s, telling people they need mental help was a key method of intimidation and control, as Frank well knows when he tells April she needs to see a shrink.

THE LURE OF MONEY AND SUCCESS – Oh, Frank, how you spin 180 degrees when a company executive sits you down, gives you some honest-to-goodness appreciation and judges that you, Frank Wheeler, have what it takes to join him in a new business venture and use your ingenuity to move up in the company and make some serious money. With such a glowing prospect, following April’s plan of moving to Paris so you can sit around and “fine yourself” begins to smell like a big pile of dog you-know-what.

THE KIDS – Frank and April have two children: six-year-old Jennifer and four-year-old Michael, running up and down in the backyard, playing with the neighborhood boys and girls but most of the time sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons. And where will Jennifer and Michael be as teenagers in 1969? At Woodstock, wearing their hair long, smoking grass, listening to Joan Baez and Richie Havens and Santana. Bye, bye 1950s. Good riddance!

( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
I found the book to be boring. I saw the movie based on the book with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and I found that to be boring. The story takes place in the 1950's and it's centered around a failing marriage and failed ambitions. The book failed to keep my interest. ( )
  writemoves | Jan 30, 2017 |
Tried to read this about 6 times before getting married. Read it my honeymoon 4 months after we got married and finished it in a day . . . ( )
  kemilyh1988 | Jan 16, 2017 |
Beautifully written. ( )
  Juliasb | Dec 1, 2016 |
Published in 1961, Revolutionary Road takes us inside the lives of Frank and April Wheeler, a couple who met in New York City, but now lives in the suburbs with their two children. Both Frank and April are deeply discontented, with their lives and with their marriage. As they struggle to make meaning of their lives, their feelings are palpable. It was the realism with which this story was told that impressed me the most. ( )
  porch_reader | Sep 24, 2016 |
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Writing in controlled, economical prose, Mr. Yates delineates the shape of these disintegrating lives without lapsing into sentimentality or melodrama. His ear for dialogue enables him to infuse the banal chitchat of suburbia with a subtext of Pinteresque proportions, and he proves equally skilled at reproducing the pretentious, status-conscious talk of people brought up on Freud and Marx.

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Yatesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Emeis, MarijkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ford, RichardForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Alas! When passion is both meek and wild! -John Keats
To Sheila
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The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking out over the footlights of the empty auditorium.
Ko so potihnili zadnji pojemajoči glasovi generalke, člani igralske skupine Laurel niso vedeli, kaj bi – kar stali so, tihi in nemočni, in mežikali čez odrske luči v prazno dvorano.
Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375708448, Paperback)

The rediscovery and rejuvenation of Richard Yates's 1961 novel Revolutionary Road is due in large part to its continuing emotional and moral resonance for an early 21st-century readership. April and Frank Wheeler are a young, ostensibly thriving couple living with their two children in a prosperous Connecticut suburb in the mid-1950s. However, like the characters in John Updike's similarly themed Couples, the self-assured exterior masks a creeping frustration at their inability to feel fulfilled in their relationships or careers. Frank is mired in a well-paying but boring office job and April is a housewife still mourning the demise of her hoped-for acting career. Determined to identify themselves as superior to the mediocre sprawl of suburbanites who surround them, they decide to move to France where they will be better able to develop their true artistic sensibilities, free of the consumerist demands of capitalist America. As their relationship deteriorates into an endless cycle of squabbling, jealousy and recriminations, their trip and their dreams of self-fulfillment are thrown into jeopardy.

Yates's incisive, moving, and often very funny prose weaves a tale that is at once a fascinating period piece and a prescient anticipation of the way we live now. Many of the cultural motifs seem quaintly dated--the early-evening cocktails, Frank's illicit lunch breaks with his secretary, the way Frank isn't averse to knocking April around when she speaks out of turn--and yet the quiet desperation at thwarted dreams reverberates as much now as it did years ago. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, this novel conveys, with brilliant erudition, the exacting cost of chasing the American dream. --Jane Morris, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:33 -0400)

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The devastating effects of work, adultery, rebellion, and self-deception slowly destroy the once successful marriage of Frank and April Wheeler, a suburban American couple.

(summary from another edition)

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