Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates (1961)
Methuen (2001)
355 pp

I felt before reading it that Revolutionary Road was going to be one of those books that is an experience to read. Because I’d already put the book in such high esteem, I put off reading it, either to prolong my anticipation and leave it as a big reward for some future date or to protect my unsubstantiated preconception and avoid being let down. But since Sam Mendes has opted to reunite his wife Kate with Leo for a film adaptation of this book for awards season, I finally pulled it out to read before my mind was tainted by previews, critiques, hype, awards, etc., not to mention the film itself (I’m a big fan of good film, by the way, just not as big a fan as I am of good books and the freedom they provide the audience). Also, I always like the illusion that I stumbled on to a masterpiece in isolation, and I’m always disappointed when I’m about to enjoy something that suddenly becomes a phenomenon — or a flop.

It’s 1955 in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City. This is a period and place that is still idealized ad naseum, but what we get here is a fine glimpse at the underside during the Age of Anxiety. In one of the most fantastic first chapters I’ve ever read, Yates presents a very pleasant community scene: the Laurel Players are about to perform the play The Petrified Forest. It’s been a lot of work. Here are the first, fantastic lines:

The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking over the footlights of an empty auditorium. They hardly dared to breathe as the short, solemn figure of their director emerged from the naked seats to join them on stage, as he pulled a stepladder raspingly from the wings and climbed halfway up its rungs to turn and tell them, with several clearings of his throat, that they were a damned talented group of people and wonderful group of people to work with.

“It hasn’t been an easy job,” he said, his glasses glinting soberly around the stage. “We’ve had a lot of problems here, and quite frankly i’d more or less resigned myself not to expect too much. Well, listen. Maybe this sounds corny, but something happened up here tonight. Sitting out there tonight I suddenly knew, deep down, that you were all putting your hearts into your work for the first time.”

The play (such an apt motif with which to begin this book — both the play chosen and the play as a general endeavor) doesn’t turn out so well as expected. All of the players — not to mention the community — are disappointed. April Wheeler, whom we watch wilt on stage, is humiliated. Her husband Frank, whose knuckles are cracked and red from sucking on them nervously throughout the performance, finds April dressing down alone backstage.

He closed the door and started toward her with the corners of his mouth stretched tight in a look he hoped would be full of love and humor and compassion; what he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say “Listen: you were wonderful.” But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him that she didn’t want to be touched, which left him uncertain what to do with his hands, and that was when it occurred to him that “You were wonderful” might be exactly the wrong thing to say — condescending, or at the very least naive and sentimental, and much too serious.

“Well,” he said instead. “I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph or anything, was it?”

This sets off what was probably the most painful part of the book for me. There are a lot of almost imperceptible movements and tones that eventually pull Frank and April into an awful fight on the side of the road, illuminated by passing car lights. Yates makes us sit through all of it – excruciating!

The book proceeds to enter the intimacy of the Wheeler home. April opts to sleep on the couch, confusing their two young children, whose initial steps into the Wheeler family have a tragic tinge all its own. Here is a passage the morning after the fight. Frank is digging a hole, stewing silently about the past:

And I didn’t even want a baby, he thought to the rhythm of his digging. Isn’t that the damnedest thing? I didn’t even want a baby any more than she did. Wasn’t it true, then, that everything in his life from that point on had been a succession of things he hadn’t really wanted to do? Taking a hopelessly dull job to prove he could be as responsible as any other family man, moving to an overpriced, genteel apartment to prove his mature belief in the fundamentals of orderliness and good health, having another child to prove that the first one hadn’t been a mistake, buying a house in the country because that was the next logical step and he had to prove himself capable of taking it. Proving, proving; and for no other reason than that he was married to a woman who had somehow managed to put him forever on the defensive, who loved him when he was nice, who lived according to what she happened to feel like doing and who might at any time — this was the hell of it — who might at any time of day or night just happen to feel like leaving him. It was as ludicrous and as simple as that.

But the book does not become an extended fight between man and wife, sometimes using children as leverage. Just as I was beginning to get drained by their battle, Frank and April got tired of it too (and we’re only at the beginning). They are tired of a lot of things. First and foremost, creating the impression that they are part of the community in which they reside. They know they are superior.

Intelligent, thinking people could take things like [the failed play] in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.

In a desperate act to solve the problems in their marriage, Frank and April decide it’s time to release themselves from the suffocation of American suburbs and move to Paris, where April is going to work so Frank has a chance to discover himself. With tenderness and intimacy Frank and April begin their fragile plans. The book is not, then, entirely devoid of hope. Which makes it all the more crushing.

All of this is not to suggest that Frank and April are merely victims. They instigate plenty of their troubles. They are selfish. They use their children as leverage in fights. They never quite get their footing, but partially that is because they are too proud to do what it would take. Yet we care for them.

The plot itself is excellent as a whole, but individual parts of it are not necessarily unique. That’s not to say that each individual part is not rewarding. On the contrary, Yates’s writing is a reward in and of itself. His ability to make the reader and characters intimates is masterful. I felt their pain, not because I was recalling my own experience but because I felt like I was there, in their room. When they shouted, it hurt my ears and made my breathing shallow, my shoulders tense. I also felt hope at the sight of an unexpected smile. Furthermore, Yates does this with straightforward, unassuming prose. The passages I pulled above have nothing in them that calls attention to the skill of the author. They are simple, yet poignant. You’ll notice that I quoted large portions — I wanted to keep going! The words flow, always disclosing more, always moving, constantly both confirming the meaning of the last sentence even while it subverts our expectations.

It was a wonderful experience, and the story is beautiful — but who can say why? I’m not sick enough to want to involve myself in, say, my neighbor’s pain just for the experience. I’m not sure why when a writer succeeds in presenting it like this, I enjoy the experience so intensely. My guess is that it’s partially because Yates, in this book, also manages to uncover the tenderness between Frank and April, two vulnerable people who depend upon each other for their happiness. All it takes to suck the energy out of Frank’s day is a sour look from April. I’m not saying this is because her happiness is his prime concern; I know it is because he fears the ensuing battle and what it does to him. Nevertheless, when one encroaches this closely to the most intimate aspects of family relationships, one cannot help but feel for these people, despite how ugly they can be towards each other — perhaps because of how ugly they can be towards each other. Against such a backdrop as Revolutionary Road, tenderness and vulnerability come out in sharp relief. Perhaps that’s what’s so attractive to me.

It’s a painful book that indeed evokes reverential silence, both for the characters and for the author.

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By |2017-09-25T18:13:27+00:00September 28th, 2008|Categories: Book Reviews, Richard Yates|Tags: , , |54 Comments

54 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2008 at 12:22 am

    Here’s a good place for me to respond more fully to John Self’s comment:

    Trevor, I look forward to reading your thoughts on Revolutionary Road. I’ve been thinking of revisiting it before the movie comes out and traps Frank and April forever into di Caprio and Winslet-shaped moulds. (For one thing, I keep forgetting how young they are in the book – Frank’s 29, I think – so although I instinctively think di Caprio too young, he’s probably about right.)

    If this is your first Yates, it’s likely you’ll end up reading all of him. Not much more – six novels and two collections of stories. I’d recommend Young Hearts Crying and Cold Spring Harbor particularly. You will find though that certain things recur in Yates books – not least a dissolute, drunken, frustrated-artist mother (which reflects precisely Yates’s own mother). So there is a sameness, and in some ways I’d be hard pressed to remember which of his novels is which. (In some ways his most distinctive ones are the less successful, like Disturbing the Peace -see my blog – or A Good School.) But boy could he write. I keep meaning to reread his others too, as RR is the only one I’ve read more than once. Oddly, I liked it a little less second time around.

    John, I intend to read all of Yates’s work. It’s hard to think of another writer who writes as well but with so little flourish. Unfortunately, his two books of short stories are out of print here in America, unless I go for the Collected Works – but I’m not really into that as much as I am in getting the volume as it was. I am looking to get a second-hand copy of them from somewhere. That might be one good thing (if there aren’t more) of having the film come out this winter: Yates’s works have been only barely in print, and maybe the movie will inspire some publishers to do a nice set.

    For a great article on Yates and the sad fact that his books have not been read, check out this Boston Review piece (I found it through Wikipedia).

  2. Michael September 28, 2008 at 4:22 am

    Trevor,

    I came across a pretty good book on how to read (a risky proposition in and of itself) by Francine Prose a couple years back that featured this book. I believe she quoted the same first two paragraphs you quoted here, and they hooked me; I bought the paperback before I left the bookstore.

    My reading of RR jives mostly with yours, so I’d just add this: most suburban fiction these days (notably that of Tom Perrotta) relies too much on quirk as character detail. What makes RR so devastating is that you can’t shrug off the Wheelers’ behavior as the result of any perceived wackiness. In that way, they’re kind of like Swede Levov, otherwise straightforward, clean-cut people desperately in pursuit of and clinging to notions of post-war American idealism.

    Incidentally, the library has a copy of Eleven Kinds of Loneliness if you want to browse before you buy. The first story, Doctor Jack O’Lantern, about a teacher and her confused young student, gutted me on first reading. Yates is terrific.

  3. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Michael, I definitely agree with all you say here. Though Frank and April are far from perfect, they’re fairly normal people. And what’s worse, I believe they really want their relationship and their lives to work out in a way that recognizes the other person. Excellent tie to American Pastoral, too.

    And as much as I’d love to get my own copy of Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, it would probably be best at this time to check it out at the library. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2008 at 11:48 am

    By the way, Michael, did these two books lead you to read more Yates?

  5. Max Cairnduff September 28, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    It sounds compassionate, a rare quality in much literature but one that can lift a study from prurience to something finer. I also note Michael’s comments on quirks as character detail, it takes skill to avoid that particular trap and it sounds here like Yates has that skill.

    I’d never even heard of this chap before now, but I shall look into him further, it sounds quiet but powerful, very interesting.

  6. KevinfromCanada September 28, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I have heard of Yates but paid little attention — this review convinces me that I should read him. Thanks Trevor.

  7. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    You can’t go wrong here, Max. I’ll not go so far as to say this is my favorite book, but I was stunned at Yates’s skill as a writer. It has the clarity of E.B. White and the realism of John Cheever. He effortlessly manages to move you through time and back without a single jolt. If you check him out, I’m anxious to hear your perspective.

  8. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I see you just left a remark, Kevin, so the above comment applies to your perspective as well. I am anxious to get further into his work.

  9. Michael September 28, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Right now, I’ve just read RR and most of the complete short story collection. The Easter Parade has been staring at me forlornly from my bookshelf, though, so I’ll pull it down soon.

    I’m interested to see how faithful the film stays to the book, especially the ending. This book is wall-to-wall bleak, and if Mendes goes that route, it will likely affect box office sales. I hope he does.

  10. John Self September 28, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Trevor, don’t forget that you can get the UK editions of the two collections of stories Eleven Kinds of Loneliness and Liars in Love with free delivery from the Book Depository! (But don’t forget also that the Collected edition includes some additional stories not in those volumes.)

    I remember seeing the Stuart O’Nan piece, which although only 9 years old, already reads like a missive from a more innocent (and sadder) time, now that Yates is a pretty big name among literary fiction readers. Certainly in the UK Revolutionary Road became a big word of mouth success on its reissue in 2001, and the other titles followed pretty swiftly after.

    I’m also reliably informed – I have the book but haven’t read it – that Blake Bailey’s biog, A Tragic Honesty, is well worth a read.

  11. Michael September 28, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    I’ve skimmed through the biography — also in the library — and it seems like a worthy summation of Yates’s life.

    Two anecdotes I found memorable: A college in Boston held a reading for Liars in Love, and literally nobody showed up. Yates told the organizers, “Let’s go to the bar.”

    Also, for any Seinfeld fans, the episode where Jerry and George are forced to make agonizing small talk with Elaine’s father in the hotel lobby (Jerry has to wear his suede jacket in the snow) is based on Yates. Larry David had dated Yates’s daughter. Yates himself told friends he hated the portrayal, but his daughter believed he really got a kick out of it.

  12. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    I’ll have to be getting that bio too, then. There aren’t that many authors who make me care about their bio, but Yates is one.

    John, while I know that here in the U.S. Yates has gotten more attention in the past decade, I’m not sure he has become a big name among literary fiction readers. Not that I’m that connected, but many of my well read friends have not read anything by Yates. Young Hearts Crying (your favorite, I see) is not even in print right now, though an edition is coming from Vintage in March of next year. Except for RR, which is published by Vintage, the books are published by Picador and Delta (Delta?). I hope I’m just outside on this one and that I’ll soon discover a group dedicated to this author.

  13. John Self September 29, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Fair enough Trevor, I’m probably overstating my own and my friends’ experience (though all his books are currently in print in the UK, and indeed have just been taken over by another publisher, presumably keen to capitalise on the attention he’ll be getting once the movie comes out).

    As to the stories again, James Wood, a pretty demanding critic, has this to say:

    His prose … is calmly rich – a rationed lyricism, from which the reader never goes hungry, and is never overfed. His typical characters are small, fighting men, like the protagonist of “The B.A.R. Man”, who angrily leaves his wife one night, latches on to two soldiers in a bar, tries to pick up an uninterested girl (he dreams of undressing her later, “in some ultimate vague bedroom at the end of the night”, an example of the way Yates’s prose can suddenly open up for a moment like a day lily), and then makes a fool of himself and is arrested. Contemporary reviewers of Yates’s first collection of stories, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962), rightly called the book a kind of American Dubliners; at least two of his stories, “Builders” and “Oh Joseph, I’m So Tired”, seem to me as fine as anything written by an American since the war.

    Yates’s neglect is hard to fathom. He is not a writer’s writer (that stretched telescope); he is a reader’s writer, always lucid, elegant and frequently poignant. Perhaps things are finally going his way. Bailey tells us that Yates’s eldest daughter still has her father’s ashes in her house in Brooklyn. When The New Yorker finally published one of Yates’s stories, in 2001, eight years too late for its author to appreciate the minor triumph, his daughter gave the box of ashes a shake, and said “Way to go, Dad!”

  14. John Self September 29, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Oops, here’s the link to Wood’s piece in full.

  15. Stewart September 29, 2008 at 10:42 am

    I’m also reliably informed – I have the book but haven’t read it – that Blake Bailey’s biog, A Tragic Honesty, is well worth a read.

    It most certainly is. I cited it in my top ten Best Of 2007 list, although I had read it before starting the blog, so no review.

    Revolutionary Road blew me away when reading it. I thought Cold Spring Harbor, my first Yates, had impressed me, but RR brought out the superlatives. I’m certainly going to be rereading it before the movie comes out.

  16. Trevor Berrett September 29, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for the link, John. I don’t always agree with James Wood, but I always listen to him. The first few lines of that quote you pulled out puts it as well as I think it can be put.

  17. Laura September 30, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I really like your reviews and will be featured this one in Friday Finds this week. Meanwhile, I just tagged you for a meme! Read about it here!

  18. nicole September 30, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I’m not sick enough to want to involve myself in, say, my neighbor’s pain just for the experience. I’m not sure why when a writer succeeds in presenting it like this, I enjoy the experience so intensely.

    Ah, but isn’t that the story with all novels?

    Love your review format by the way. I’ve been wanting to read RR for a while now, since I was still living in Fairfield County while they were filming there and had never heard of the book before that. Will enjoy reading about suburban CT from a remove.

  19. Trevor Berrett September 30, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Laura, thanks for thinking of me, both in featuring my review and in being curious about what makes me weird. On the spot, I can’t think of anything relevant to book reviews, but I’ll respond soon enough! I hope you don’t mind that I do it here in a comment rather than on my main page, as that page is dedicated exclusively to book reviews :).

    Nicole, the quote you pulled from my blog is particularly pondersome with this book. I mean, Yates doesn’t pull the camera away. Where most writers would lapse into general, albeit poetic, language about the difficulties of spousal relationships, Yates just keeps writing about what Frank and April are saying and doing. For example, at the beginning, we know the play is going poorly before intermission. But, much like the audience and the players, we then sit through the painful second act. Incredible!

  20. Isabel October 1, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I nominated you for an award. Please check my blog.

  21. KevinfromCanada October 17, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    A belated thanks for this review, Trevor, because this is a book I would not have read without your drawing my attention to it. The book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I finally got to it this week — and loved every single page. I’d only heard of Yates (and that was decades ago as a student) and don’t think I would have appreciated him until I’d lived more of my life. I’ll admit I can remember versions of Frank and April from my youth and this book took me back to that time with force. It is truly well done.

    I may be viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, but I’m also going to be optimistic about the movie. Before he started directing movies, Mendes was the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, arguably the most interesting theatre in the world. One of the things the Donmar did very well during his time there was revivals from this period — so I think he understands it well. Then again, maybe I am just being too optimistic.

    Still on the visual front, I don’t know if you have been following Madmen (now finishing its second season) but I’m pretty sure every writer of the series has read this book. If you are looking at a boring, snow-filled weekend where you don’t want to read this winter, you could do a lot worse than renting season one and having a festival. Like Yates, it does a very good job of reminding us what this particular period of American history was about.

  22. Trevor Berrett October 18, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Glad to hear it, Kevin. It was my first with Yates too, and I have since been working through Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, a book of short stories written before Revolutionary Road but published just after. As John said above, I am sure I will now be working my way through everything he wrote, which isn’t really that much.

  23. zhiv October 22, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Great stuff–welcome to the 08 Yates “better late than never” club. Someone mentioned your excellent commentary 10 days ago, and I read it then, but rushed away before being able to comment. I had much the same experience back in March, and I’m just a little farther along in the process. RR was wonderful and excrutiating, the biography is an excellent book, and in my further reading I haven’t found Yates to strike a single false note. There’s plenty to read over at zhiv in the Yates category, and I’m very much looking forward to your thoughts as you move along.

  24. Trevor Berrett October 22, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    zhiv, what’s your link? I don’t think I’ve been to your page before, and typing zhiv in google brings 147,000 results (one of the top of which is a link to an attorney at my firm, strangely enough)! I’d love to read your thoughts on further Yates. On Sunday I will be posting my review of Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, the next in my quest to read Yates in order.

  25. Stewart October 22, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Looks like http://zhiv.wordpress.com/, Trevor.

  26. Trevor Berrett October 22, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    I shoulda thought of that! Thanks, Stewart.

  27. zhiv October 23, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Sorry about that–I thought it was going to automatically show up, and then it didn’t and the post was up, and I was hoping for the best… Thanks Stewart.

    I read “Eleven Kinds” after RR too, but never got around to posting on it. It’s a truly classic collection, which reads extremely well, and then becomes even more interesting after you read the biography. Looking forward to your post. I went out of order after that–read Easter Parade next, then the biography and a couple more stories (“Oh Joseph I’m So Tired” is just unbelievable, truly amazing), and then Disturbing the Peace most recently. Hesitating for some reason before diving into the next installment…

  28. Trevor Berrett October 24, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    zhiv, John Self said once that it might be good to space out readings of Yates. They are weighty and seem to revolve around similar themes. I think I’m going to space out my readings just so that I take each book on its own terms and don’t suffer a sort of fatigue – if that’s possible with Yates!

  29. Stewart October 25, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Spacing them out makes sense as, once past Revolutionary Road, you are into bad mother territory. Say hello, repeatedly, to Pookie.

  30. KevinfromCanada October 25, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    I too would recommend spacing out. I sprang right into Disturbing the Peace and, compared to Revolutionary Road, it was a disappointing book. I suspect if I had left a few months in between it would have landed much better.

  31. zhiv October 27, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Going in order could be good and interesting. Not sure what’s best. I had heard that Easter Parade was his 2nd best book, and that was where I went next. Stewart is right–look forward to lots of mom/Pookie–but Easter Parade is much more about the sister, and Yates’ own “persona” in it is fascinating. After Easter Parade I read the biography and then DtP, and I think that I enjoyed DtP more and was able to read more deeply into it because I had some knowledge about RY’s bouts of mental illness and his Hollywood experience. And just about anything would be disappointing compared to RevRoad, although 11 Kinds reads really well in that context, as you’ve seen, and I found that Easter Parade was really strong, not really disappointing at all, very different. I’m a bit scared of Special Providence, which is the next novel after RevRoad, and I haven’t read it yet, and that one is supposed to be deeply flawed. But my expectations are low. Maybe the fact that it’s next on your list will cause me to move it up on my own.

    Spacing things out is a good idea for all sorts of reasons. The books (the ones I’ve read) are fantastic, but they’re devastating and depressing, and it’s nice to take some time to let them sink deeply into your consciousness. But if you’re concerned, you really might want to jump ahead to Easter Parade–it worked for me.

  32. dewitt henry October 29, 2008 at 3:49 am

    You might enjoy Yates’s contributions to Ploughshares at http://www.pshares.com (type in Richard Yates in the search box). There is also a voice recording of the original interview with Yates at http://pages.emerson.edu/faculty/d/dewitt_henry/yatesinterview.mp3
    Ploughshares also is offering Yates’s screenplay of LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS and has a great recording of William Styron reading the opening chapter of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD.

  33. Trevor Berrett November 25, 2008 at 12:21 am

    For those interested in the upcoming film adaptation, here is the latest trailer.

  34. KevinfromCanada December 12, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    James Wood’s review of Revolutionary Road in The New Yorker is a nice offset to the forthcoming release of the movie. He does a very good job of using this first novel to create a context of all of Yates’ work (and I like the later work much more than he does) and to position this work in its time. I suspect the movie won’t do that.

  35. Trevor Berrett December 12, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Thanks for bringing that review to my attention, Kevin. For those of you who are interested, here is the link. Better get to it soon since the New Yorker eventually makes you pay for past articles!

  36. Trevor Berrett December 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    I’d like to put in another plug for this article in the New Yorker. It reminded me of the many reasons why Revolutionary Road is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

    Beware, though, if you haven’t read the novel yet. In his analysis, Woods reveals much of the book.

  37. KevinfromCanada December 15, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I agree with you completely on the value of this article, Trevor. And while it does give away a lot of the plot, I don’t think it spoils it — the value the article adds in appreciating what Yates accomplishes in this book more than offsets that.

  38. […] Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates:  My find of the year (I’d already found Roth).  How did I make it this […]

  39. John Self December 19, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Trevor, now that I’ve reread Revolutionary Road, I can offer one answer to your question in the ‘After’ section of your review.

    SPOILERS FOLLOW

    I believe one reason why Frank didn’t want April to have an abortion was because he didn’t really want to go to Europe – early on, when April first mentions it, he is “instantly frightened” by the idea, and later, when the pregnany is announced, Franks feels “the pressure was off, life had come mercifully back to normal.” He sees the pregnancy as a way out of having to risk the terrifying prospect of change which, perversely, he nonetheless desperately wants.

  40. John Self December 19, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve also read Wood’s piece now that I’ve written up my own review (which will appear on my blog tomorrow), and am surprised by how many similar points we make about the book: the lack of sentimentality which itself is a form of sentimentality; the struggle for Frank between conforming and escaping; the parallels with Madame Bovary (which Yates himself raises early in the text, when Frank compares April to Emma Bovary) – though I only alluded to this rather than explicitly naming it, as I think it might count as a spoiler to anyone who hasn’t read the book.

    Of course, now you’ll all just think I copied Wood…

  41. Trevor Berrett December 19, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Eventually I came to that conclusion too, John, though while reading it, I wasn’t too sure.

    And John, I don’t think you copied anything from Wood. I will read your review any day over his!

  42. KevinfromCanada December 19, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    I’m organizing my thoughts in anticipation of John’s review — and I certainly won’t be accusing him of cribbing from Woods. Yates was one of the better surprises of the year for me two — I’m still chagrined that I had not read him before.

  43. Max Cairnduff January 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I picked this up today Trevor, and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (and The Reluctant Fundamentalist but that one’s not at your door, I fear I shall regret that last choice but the topic interests me and at least it looks as if it won’t take an age to digest, even if the framing device does look utterly unpersuasive).

    Anyway, it was your review that brought Yates to my attention I believe, so thanks for that and I shall let you know what I think. I’m looking forward to it.

  44. Trevor Berrett January 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Excellent news, Max. I look forward to your thoughts and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

    I also don’t think you’ll be terribly disappointed with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I didn’t particularly think the framing device was effective, but the writing is good and takes the reader through an interesting perspective. A New Yorker smiling when he sees the Towers fall? I also thought the book’s touches on identity were a strong point, potentially one of the best parts of 2007’s Booker shortlist.

  45. KevinfromCanada January 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    I thought The Reluctant Fundamentalist was an excellent book, although personal experience played a major part in that opinion. My wife and I were Canadians living in Pittsburgh at the time; I have never felt a greater sense of “you are not one of us” than I did in the way we were treated in the months after 9/11. I don’t think Americans realized at all how their president was not only making them isolated in the world, their own reaction was doing the same thing. That for me was the strongest part of the book — I actually read it twice in one evening, Max, so I don’t think it is going to upset your schedule that much.

    And my adivce on the Yates short stories (which I also picked up following Trevor putting me on to him) is to develop a plan to read them one or two at a time. They need some contemplation.

  46. Max Cairnduff January 16, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Well, I’m delighted to learn The Reluctant Fundamentalist may have been a better purchase than I feared.

    I’ll take your advice on the short stories Kevin. The Vikram Chandra collection I read recently benefitted from reading them together, Eileen Chang didn’t benefit but didn’t suffer from reading them in one go, but a Raymond Carver collection I started suffered terribly when I did the exact same thing as I had with the Chandra and the Chang.

    It’s useful to know up front how much space to leave, as one can crush short stories very easily by not giving them the space they need to breathe, and how much space that is isn’t always obvious until it may be a tad too late.

  47. Max Cairnduff January 16, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Forgot to add, I much prefer the cover Trevor got for Revolutionary Road. I have the Vintage cover, which shows a rather stylish 50sish couple on it, though at least I don’t have the movie cover.

    I know, commenting on covers, but the cover of a book matters is the first thing you see and can set the tone in a way complementary to the author’s work or damaging to it, unfair as that may be.

  48. Trevor Berrett January 16, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Max, I’m a book cover junky. In fact, one of the reasons I bought Revolutionary Road when I did was so I wouldn’t get a terrible movie poster cover. Frankly, the book cover is often the dispositive issue in whether or not I make the purchase.

    And I’m still very sad that one of my favorite books, The Virgin Suicides, still has the movie post cover ten years later!

  49. KevinfromCanada January 17, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I too am not afraid to admit to being a cover junky — usually in the form of not buying books with bad covers, rather than buying because of a good cover. Virgin Suicides does have a terrible cover — I see a new edition is due out in April but checking the publisher, they too seem to specialize in bad covers.

    As for Yates’ short stories, the reason that I advocate leaving space between them is that he seems to try out the themes for most of his novels first in a short story (characters and situations from the stories aften show up almost intact later in a novel). Since he is one of those writers whose entire work seems to be a whole (if you know what I mean — that’s not very well expressed) and since that work often involves rather depressing circumstances, reading the stories one after another tends to produce a lot of gloominess on a number of different fronts, whereas when you read just one or two and take some time for thought you can develop a context.

  50. Cheryl LaRosa January 20, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Trevor,

    RE: The last question in your review:

    One question I have, though: since Frank obviously doesn’t feel any moral problem with an abortion, why is he against April’s getting one? Was it to lock April into the role he wanted her to play? Did his masculinity demand it? Or was it because, while April was unique in the suberbs, Frank never was?

    I thought that Frank was afraid that he would not shine in Europe. In the suburbs of America he was seen as clever and bright, as April said he talked a big game and could make black appear white. But maybe in Paris he would just be a country bumpkin and he was afraid of being revealed. So I think he was releaved that she was pregnant and this allowed him to appear to take the high road while all the time he was hiding behind her skirts and April could sense this and this made her resent him more.

  51. Trevor Berrett January 20, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Great insights, Cheryl. I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head. So terrible to be complacent in mediocrity, yet surely Frank knew his potential was minimal.

    Thanks!

  52. […] Road, and indeed introduced to Richard Yates, through a review on Trevor Barret’s blog Revolutionary Road. Trevor introduced me to Richard Yates as a writer, and in doing so did me a great kindness. I […]

  53. Trevor October 21, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Here is a long but excellent interview with Richard Yates conducted by Ploughshares. It has some spoilers, so read with caution if you haven’t already read Yates: click here.

  54. […] and the Gripes introduced me to Yates a few years back (pre-blog) with an excecptional review of Revolutionary Road and I quickly dived into the back catalogue of this over-looked American author. Yes, his work is […]

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