Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quality of Life

Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates

“The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy. Even at night, as if on purpose, the development held no looming shadows and no gaunt silhouettes. It was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves … A man running down these streets in desperate grief was indecently out of place.”   ― Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

How do you describe what you have just experienced when you've just finished reading a perfectly-written book? Richard Yates' masterpiece, Revolutionary Road, is a modern classic in the true sense of the word. He captures life in the fifties and the ennui and longing that lay hidden behind the grey flannel suits and the white aprons. This book works on every level, just one being the way he successfully creates a central couple as protagonists and is able to provide, in a theme and variation style, two other couples whose lives in different ways mirror those of the central couple, the Wheelers - Jack and April. His writing style is effortless and deeply serious - in our book discussion the multiple connections to the poetry of T. S. Eliot were brought out as examples of the depth and complexity of the novel. Yates uses motifs with superb subtlety to provide a continuity that lasts throughout, even surviving the climactic finale.

What amazes me even more is that this was a first novel - it is unusual for the first novel of an author to be his best. I also find interesting that this novel was bested by Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, a book that I personally like, for the National Book award in 1962 (Heller's Catch 22 was also a finalist). That suggests the quality of the competition in that year was very high (I wish I could say the same about every year). I found this to be a book that works well on many levels and one that I strongly recommend be read by all.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Everyman's Library. 2009 (1961)

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