Archive for Rutgers Book Club

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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