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Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

August 24, 2013


“You’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met,” April Wheeler tells her husband, Frank, as we’re getting to know the 1950s, suburban Connecticut characters early in Revolutionary Road. But as we see, it’s just one of the many lies they tell to each other and to themselves as they try to buy into the myth that a house in the burbs, a couple kids and a decent job in the city is the recipe for guaranteed happiness. But when April thinks back on that comment later in the book, she sees it in a different light:

In a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear…

By then, we’ve seen the disillusionment build and manifest itself in some really nasty ways. There is a selfishness, a naiveté, and an arrogance in the main characters that often makes them hard to like, and there is an unsettling darkness to the whole story. But it is undeniably relatable.

Revolutionary Road was originally published in 1961 as a critique of a decade that never lived up to its promise. Looking back 50 years later, it’s hard to see the disillusionment of middle-class suburbanites as a unique or insightful theme. But Yates’ writing is strong and his plot pulls no punches. It buzzes with anger and resentment. It reaches across that half century and slaps you across the face and leaves you with an uncomfortable sting.

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