3. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates.

28 Jan

A friend told me this book was “funny.” And later elaborated, “because of the community theater part.” Now, the book got enough press when the movie came out that I was pretty sure that it was not going to be a laugh riot, but at first I felt comfortably inured from being horrifically depressed by it. And in fact spending some time in the company of a horrible marriage fairly dissimilar to any I am familiar with/those of the modern day seemed like it might be even cheering, if not funny. Like, we’ve come a long way since the 50s when women were admiring and aimless and men were Men and it was rebellious and interesting to find working for a corporation to be soul-deadening. And we can at least all feel good about that. So, Frank and April Wheeler’s callowness and striving and angst and brainless pretension didn’t seem like they’d have the ring of enough truth to hurt.

Yeah but so anyway, that was idle wishing. One of the other psychological poles of the book is the phoniness and surface-ness of life, and the feeling of going mad underneath it. Again I think a 2012 reader is too sophisticated to respond to some of the material.  An ad jingle from the radio breaking into a tense moment between a couple as a trivializing device is too cliche, these days.  The suburban subdivision–the “Revolutionary Road” of the title–carries real horror for Yates. In 2012, “little houses, made of ticky-tacky, little boxes all the same” is the theme song for the transgressive, savvy and violently nihilistic show Weeds. Set Nancy Botwin loose on Frank Wheeler…

But nonetheless, the emotional lurching and zooming and fighting and intensely worked up states and drinking and hangovers and grotesque sexual passion does end up establishing a doomful and disturbing sense that any one of us–me, you, especially me–could be mad. There’s a mad person in the book (played by the amazing Mike Shannon in the movie), and of course he’s the only one who really knows what’s going on and isn’t afraid to say it. That’s a cliche too, but the setup works and the reader can’t help but feel the undertow of horror.

Another thing I liked about this book was how tightly staged it was. it almost all took place at the couple’s house. It felt made for theater in a way that echoed the play that the book begins with very nicely.

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