Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Report: Revolutionary Road

"Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstances might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were." 

I notice that every once in awhile an idea or concept or feeling or whatever pops into my head and I become completely enthralled with it. I start to watch TV shows and movies and read books that have to do with it until I get my fix on whatever it is I want to know/feel/act like/learn about. A couple weeks ago I got this weird feeling that I wanted to read about life in the 1950s American suburbs. Or perhaps the disillusionment of how perfect everyone seemed to have thought it was. Immediately Revolutionary Road By Richard Yates came to mind. I had already seen the Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio film adaptation and I really enjoyed it. I bought the book years ago and it had just sat on my bookshelf while other books took priority. Now after finally reading it I have no idea what took me so long.

If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, it's about a young couple Frank and April Wheeler who, like everyone else in the post-war 1950s, move from New York City to a Connecticut suburb to start a family. After two kids and several years at a mind-numbing job in the city, the couple starts to get restless and nostalgic about what their life could have been like--or could still be like. April comes up with the idea of packing up and moving the family to Paris. To her, Paris is where people really live life, unlike Connecticut where people just go through the motions of a life they think they're suppose to have. The book chronicles what happens when the couple tries to achieve this life that they think they're missing out on, and trying to keep it together when things don't go according to plan and everything starts to unravel. 

To me, one of the most amazing things about this book is that it was published in 1961. It wasn't published 50 years later when time had passed and people had forgotten what it was really like, or when nostalgia of the good ol' days had crept in with its rose-colored glasses. It was contemporary for its time--truthful and honest about how people may have felt while trying to adjust to this new concept of "suburbia" and this new way of life. The country was prospering but there was still a new generation of young people who were trying to find their spot in it all.  They were torn between living a life of passion and adventure, traveling and experiencing all that the world had to offer or succumbing to the "Leave It To Beaver" lifestyle of backyard barbecues, PTA meetings and bridge games.

The thing I loved most about this book is the dialogue between characters. A lot of the time when you read books from 50 years ago, the dialogue seems so unrealistic, that you couldn't imagine anyone ever talking that way. But this book is the complete opposite of that.  April and Frank's conversations and arguments are so believable that you could apply it to any couple today and it would still seem relevant.  And isn't that the ultimate feat? To have something still be relevant half a century later?

I was completely engrossed with this book, not being able to put it down and still thinking about it once I did. It was one of those books where I would read something, my jaw would drop and I would immediately think "I need to discuss this with someone." It was a book where you just wish someone was reading it right there next to you so you could look over to them and say, "Can you believe that?!"

So if you're looking for a book to read, a book to take you to a different era that still feels eerily familiar, that lets you eavesdrop on a couple that is both passionate and delusional, and that makes you love and hate the characters simultaneously, then I cannot recommend this book enough. And if you have already read it: what did you think about it?   Did you love it or hate it? And what are you reading now?

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