Y is for Yates

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This is Frank’s story. Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, ostensibly tells of the Wheelers, a young couple with a couple of young kids who live in suburban America paradise in the fifties. Really though, it is Frank’s story – we see everything through him and although his wife April is the first character we are introduced to, Frank is the one we get to know.

He goes to his office, where his job involves some sort of vague sales type marketing stuff, and then he comes home to his wife and kids where they pretend that everything is fine to their bland friends and excruciating neighbours.

Behind closed doors is a different story, where Frank and April tear each other apart – physically and mentally – torturing the other for trapping them in this inane life. April blames Frank for getting her pregnant seven years too early, thwarting her acting career. She later admits that she never really had an acting career, but this issue is soon replaced by another excuse to beat each other with. It’s bleak and sparse but Yates saves it from being depressing by making the characters sympathetic. Near the beginning there is a conversation about Evelyn Waugh, where someone comments that those people don’t exist. It is the opposite for Yates’ characters, where each of them has a human quality, a believable personality, fear, motive, that makes each trapped family unit heart-breaking.

What made this even more surprising to me was that it was written in 1961. I thought it was a look back at the fifties, using hindsight and experience to draw an insightful conclusion. In fact, Yates was in the middle of this time period, the yuppies before yuppies.

I think to say I enjoyed this would be a stretch, as it’s not an enjoyable book. However, the plot is beautifully held and taut right up until the end. All of the characters are believable, with a poignancy that is hard to write. I would like to read this again in a year or so, perhaps when I haven’t imposed such a stringent time limit on myself, or messed up the weeks.

I haven’t seen the film, either, and I think I would also like to see it. Like so many book to film adaptations, I may have to separate the film from the source material.

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