Revolutionary Road Review
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Even though it won the Booker Prize and was runner-up for the National Book Award—and despite the glowing jacket blurbs calling it “flawless”—Richard Yates’s first novel, Revolutionary Road (1961) is a flawed novel.

In Yates’s attempt to detail the intimate lives of April and Frank Wheeler, it appears to have been his intention to prove that they became superficial characters because they chose to live in the suburbs of 1950s America. He fails to persuade, however, because April and Frank themselves fail to prove that they would have done any better or worse had they lived anywhere else. Their faults did not come from having lived in suburbia; their faults were already an integral part of who they were.

Unfortunately, the novel provides relatively few details about how April and Frank grew up, how they met, or what made them finally decide to move to the suburbs, settle down, and have two children. The most we learn about Frank’s childhood dreams is that he wanted to run away, hop a freight train, and see the world. And we learn that April wanted to be an actress and, perhaps, someday move to Paris so she, too, could learn more about the world.

Limited dreams, limited visions. It seems as though Frank and April would have been car wrecks wherever and whenever they would have lived. And it’s easy to surmise, from the novel’s first pages on, that both of them are on a collision course to disaster. There are lots of arguments, mostly because of the characters’ strikingly different temperaments, and they each end up having an affair. By the time April decides it’s time for them to move to Paris, their worlds have already drawn too far apart.

The novel contains no Stepford Wives scenes that show how superficial and shallow their suburban lives have become. There are no great descriptions of the ‘burbs themselves, and there are no clues as to why the people who live in the Wheelers’ Connecticut suburb are, supposedly, living such superficial lives. Sure, their real estate agent and her husband are rather colorless, but they, too, would probably have been bland people wherever they had lived. And even though their brilliant but psychologically disturbed son claims to be the only one who sees that everyone else is living shallow lives, he has to be locked up at night to keep himself from harm.

The one scene, however, that reveals the most about the novel’s main characters occurs on the opening night of a local community production of The Petrified Forest, which takes place, quite fittingly, at the beginning of the novel.

As fate would have it, the play’s male lead gets sick at curtain time and has to be replaced by the director. It’s an understandable, unnerving experience, but poor April, who’s been cast as the female lead, has a total meltdown on stage and never, ever is able to get it together again throughout the rest of the novel.

The fifties and their suburbs may have brought out the worst in the people who grew up in those times, but for someone who grew up there as I did, it’s easy to see that Frank and April’s faults were not within the ‘burbs; they were already within themselves.

Revolutionary Road is a downer that shouldn’t be blamed on the neighbors.

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