Archive for Rutgers Book Club of NYC

In defense of Revolutionary Road, the book

I wrote this comment in response to Lee Siegel’s review of “Revolutionary Road,” the movie, in The Wall Street Journal:

If only Lee Siegel had made a greater distinction between Revolutionary Road the book and “Revolutionary Road” the movie!

Indeed, his conclusion about the movie is, I think, what Richard Yates was saying in the novel: “[L]ife’s complexity and surprise follow you everywhere, even over the city-line, across the river and into the suburban trees.”

It’s true that Yates invents an uninspiring landscape by planting “KING KONE, MOBILGAS, SHOPORAMA, EAT” signs all along fictitious Route Twelve, but the true lack of inspiration lies inside Frank and April Wheeler. Nothing in their lives has prepared them to be anything more than dilettantes. They don’t know very much about hard work, persistence or commitment. Worst of all, they blame everybody except themselves for their failures: the community theater is cheesy; Knox Business Machines is full of do-nothings; and the Revolutionary Road community, whose members actually had the kindness to come out and support their neighbors in an amateur performance of a very average play, is nothing more than a bastion of Republican dummkopfs.

The Wheelers’ Connecticut suburb forces them to acknowledge a harsh reality about themselves and each other: They are not great actors or writers. They are ordinary people doing ordinary things — raising their children, planting gardens, taking out the trash. At some point on the evolutionary road to adulthood, most of us ordinary souls accept this ordinariness about ourselves and our social circle. The Wheelers’ tragedy lies in their belief that life owes them something “absolutely crazy, and marvelous.” When life doesn’t deliver on this wished-for scenario, the Wheelers fall apart. If you want to examine the problem of suburban America, Yates seems to be saying, look at Frank and April. Don’t blame SHOPORAMA.

Even though I was never (sad to say) a Paris Review intern, count me in as one of the puerile admirers of Yates’ wonderful old — and deeply insightful — book!

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Rutgers Book Club gets a seat at the Algonquin round table

stack of booksSeven members of the Rutgers Book Club of NYC got together on December 4, 2007 for a holiday party at the Algonquin Hotel.

Men in livery held open doors. A team of maitre d’s hurried to oblige us in a search for a table — even though we had no seat reservations. The plush red decor summoned up an elegant ambiance from the days when Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley — two Algonquin Roundtable wits — used to hang out here and talk about books.

Toward the end of the evening, we exchanged the books we’d brought along as gifts. Here’s a list of the night’s winnings:

Point of No Return by John Marquand

Naked by David Sedaris

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketa Mehta

Writing New York: A Literary Anthology by Phillip Lopate

The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

Several people also made book recommendations:

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger.

Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History by Helene Stapinski

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Before setting off for our separate destinations, we settled on a reading theme for 2008: The classics; that is, books we want to reread or wish we had read in the first place.  As usual, our theme is loosely defined and open to capricious forays into whatever happens to suit us.

To be read for our January 16, 2008 meeting: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Thank you to these book club members for creating a lovely night out in Manhattan:

Donald Cassidy, Hugh Evans, Jennifer Cashman, Linda Sayre, Sharon Eliran, Stefanie Rudnicki and Barbara Finkelstein.

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