Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road
Though written in and about the Fifties, this book could still said be one of the best novels about disillusionment this century. At the beginning the two main characters – Frank and April – have dreams and hope. At the end, April is dead and Frank just a nobody.
Both come out of the war, with the idea of being different and, for them, being different means going to Europe. Frank is determined to enjoy himself while still in New York and chases the girls and has a good time. Then he meets April, they fall in love and, eventually, get married. He takes a”temporary” job, chosen because it will allow him to earn some money while, essentially, doing nothing. Ironically, the firm he works for is the firm where his father was a salesman. But soon, they fall into the trap. He settles into the job, they move to the suburbs and buy a house, they have children and, soon enough, it’s amateur dramatics (for her) and an affair (for him).
Yates does a wonderful job of showing the gradual deterioration of their dreams. There are their plans for their trip to Europe which never materialise and the failure of the amateur dramatics. And, of course, there are the others, whom April and Frank Wheeler look down on. Firstly, there are the Campbells, their friends but whom they despise for being bourgeois and suburban (though, of course, no more than the Wheelers). Secondly, there is Mrs. Givings, the real estate agent with her deaf husband and her son who is in and out of mental institutions, who tries to be the centre of the local community. Finally, there are his colleagues at work who hang on in quiet desperation, accepting – unlike Frank – that they are going nowhere.
But, in the end, it is Frank and April who go nowhere, while Mrs. Givings and the Campbells and Frank’s colleagues – even his unfortunate lover, Maureen – survive, adapting, as many of us have to do, to a life without dreams, to a life on the Revolutionary Estates on Revolutionary Road.
First published 1961 by Little, Brown