I just finished Revolutionary Road. My forthcoming novel is about the hell of suburban living, but this book set the bar way back in the fifties. What a great book on the suburban culture of America. Frank and April are the quintessential suburbanites who have it all but have nothing. We pick up on them as they return from a play and get into a horrible fight. The fight is amazing in how vicious it becomes and the way Richard Yates funnels the stress of suburban living. This novel takes place in the fifties, but it certainly could be today.
April and Frank had been bohemians in Greenwich before moving to the burbs. A stunning scene is when April walks to the end of her drive and stares at every house just like hers. The isolation, the nihilistic sense of doom is palpable as she stands in her drive in the quiet plasticity that is suburban life. She and Frank decide they want to go to Europe and escape the smothering sameness of their existence. As they plan their getaway Frank has numerous affairs and is promoted at his company. The brakes are put on their plan when April becomes pregnant. Desperately unhappy she has an affair and they fight over the abortion that April wants to have. An ancillary character that visits them from a mental institution raises the question of who is really insane.
The ending is dead on, but what Yates does masterfully with this novel is capture the soul deadening quality of suburban living for anytime. The frustration and desire of Frank and April of course are our own and while our resolution may not be as violent, Yates gives us a final image of a man turning down his hearing aid so he cannot hear his wife. He needs to say no more about the quiet madness of suburban life. We can relate.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel, Rocket Man is due out in January.