Richard Yates´ Revolutionary Road chronicles the unhappy marriage of Frank and April Wheeler in 1950s American suburbia. Both April and Frank expected their lives to be different from typical middle-class, because they are meant for a better life which includes Europe and intellectual discussions. Pregnancy however seems to put an end to this before it even started. A second child follows, a bigger car, a boring desk-job, and the right family house . Welcome to suburbia! And so the couple suffocates in their family life as well as their marriage, until the decision is made to “escape” to Paris. From then on it all gets worse!
The novel confronts the theme of gender roles which was of most interest to me. Apart from forcing people to fall into the consumer role that equates consumption and goods with happiness, suburbian lifestyle also forces men and women into sterotypical gender roles. In Revolutionary Road, April is depicted as intelligent, determined and ruthless. She is the one who decides to move to Paris and actually put the plan into action, while Frank is aimless, impressionable and clingy. From the outset Aril is the strong person, while Frank is weak. In their marriage however, they have to conform to gender stereotypes, switch character types, and adept to suburbian life. Of course this can lead to nothing but unhappiness.
April has to stay home, tend to house and the children, and present her husband with a cocktail the minute he steps into the house after a hard day´s work at the office. Completely ridiculous, especially since Frank´s job consists mostly of doing nothing at all except for being bored. There seems to be no possibility for intellectual pursuits, or they fail (drinks and discussions, putting together a play). I would not say that the children are the ones that suffer the most, they are all unhappy in this novel, but they are what forced the couple into this life (child number 1) or the proof that they are capable of this life (child number 2), or their downfall (number 3). Yates does not step out of the depressing setting he created by making the children especially likeable or cute, they are there and pretty needy and attention seeing, as they should be in a situation like this.
The characters are trapped in their lives, utterly depressed and unhappy, but easy to empathise with. Revolutionary Road is perhaps better described as a study than a story and made utterly readable because of Yates´ style. I can only agree that he was a master of his craft, a “writer´s writer”.
Also reviewed by Dominique at Coffee Stained Pages.