Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: "Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates

I really dislike it when people automatically think that the book is better than the movie that is adapted from it. It always comes off as beyond snobbish and it compares two art forms that are experienced in different ways. No matter what kind of film or what kind of book, movies are a passive experience and books are experiences that must be engaged in. I was a movie fan before I was a bookworm, and movies can do things books can never do. But now, I am going to be one of those snobby people: Revolutionary Road, the novel by Richard Yates, I worlds better than the movie. It’s a matter of impossible translation and no one involved, but the heightened melodrama people say onscreen is nothing compared to the brutal, emotional smackdown that the book is. If we are just judging on sheer feeling, this is one of the most violent books I have ever read. In one descriptive sentence or in one line of dialogue between two characters, there is enough violence and ugliness that makes the violence and gore of some horror novels feel like rays of sunshine. This is also a horror story of the highest order, but it is a horror of the hidden, a horror we feel toward what our true selves might be and the horror of what our place in this big world really is. It is easily one of the best novels of the sixties and the last half of the 20th century. It begins, as the movie did, at a performance of the play The Petrified Forest. We are slowly, through the painful rendering of an awkward and shoddy performance, introduced to the couple of Frank and April Wheeler, two souls, infected with wanderlust and two kids, who consistently tell themselves that they are better than those around them and are meant for better things. The novel, which takes place in 1955, shows us how they fail at this endeavor and destroy themselves in the process. What makes this different in the book is that we get many different perspectives, not just the Wheelers. There is also Shep and Milly Campbell, neighbors who’ve made the Wheelers best friends out of necessity. Shep in particular has a scene near the end that is beautifully and painfully revelatory. But the real center of this book, kind of hidden if I may say so, is john Givings Jr., the son of Howard and Helen Givings, also neighbors of the Wheelers. He is unstable enough to be a patient at a mental hospital, but his three scenes with the Wheelers are biting, aggressive, men and nasty but they are filled with a harsh truth that no one else in the book will admit too. It’s hard to say too much about this book without repeating the words of those before me. This lost classic, which seems to be lost no more, is a compulsively readable gem about the ways in which we delude ourselves into inaction, and what happens when we face the consequences.

Rating: 5/5

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