Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bibliophile: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I read this book without ever having heard of or read the author, (now dead) Richard Yates. The tone of the book, the speaker's perspective, was clearly past- even without the details that set the time period ( 1950's ) I recognized this voice: manly, a bit clipped in comparison to modern voices, restrained yet dramatic in even the smallest conversations and musings, slightly sexist, a streak of hopelessness. It's terrifically sad. I have not been able to draw forth another book that weighed in this heavily in despair and emptiness: there was nothing to redeem, no hope, no side character or plot with any spark of life or real character. Even the children are depressing: mopey, strange and always in the background of the adult life, never a real consideration, never wanted. A pregnancy that ends in death is the ultimate metaphor for how children are viewed to these characters: burdens of responsibility, even their love and respect just another expectation to be met.
The adults are all completely self centered, psuedo-intelligent and emotionally stunted. Affairs are had without real desire or stakes, friendships are made without any real respect or love, marriages are entered into with a modicum of desire and some self aggrandizing expectations. I found myself highly frustrated with the repetitive nature of the main characters: they are deeply flawed, but somehow still come across as hopelessly shallow, never accruing at least the depth that suffering can imbue on a person.
The writing keeps circling round the character's perspectives on America: empty, shallow, repetitive, hopeless, war mongering, to the point where it is hard to tell if the author is actually making a point about America, or if the point is the character's unwillingness to take personal responsibility for their lives and simply shift the blame to a vague concept of 'America' and what it has done to them. The characters are to removed from society- their only interaction involves a community theatre group with a play that metaphorically ends in disaster- to take their musings seriously: they barely read (but talk about reading) have anything to do with anyone, (he fancies himself above his job, his fellow workers and the company itself) she doesn't work, they don't like anyone (especially themselves) and aren't involved with anything, so their opinions seemed to be based on their college ideas and discussions, endlessly regurgitated.
The writing is amazing for it's ability to hold this intensly tight and sad string from beginning to end: every setting and situation hold the same undercurrents of futility and despair. The only character with any real spark is a mad man- perhaps life is only bearable if you are insane? The main characters are absorbed with the madman's craziness like easily impressed children, desperate for anything exciting, anything to move them, as their own love, children and lives have failed to do.
I love a good drama, I adore Tolstoy's works, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath- so no one can accuse me of not appreciating a finely written dark story, but this book was too relentlessly empty for me to ever read again. I can admire the author's skills but I cannot love this book.
Shelby said...

I think I'll have to give it a shot as I tend to be drawn to depressing dramas. So glad you found my blog and I'm looking forward to following yours!


ButtonHole said...

This and the next post are so bizarre. I read Rev Rd several years ago but let a therapist borrow it and never got it back (long story there!). Asked for it again for Christmas and just finished. Incredibly intense novel.
Then, the book pix! A friend asked me this week how many books I have. I said I didn't know but that I'd take pictures of all my bookcases and send him, and I took those this afternoon!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up! Says much to that era doesn't it? LOVE...

Annie said...

I often feel depleted rather than enlightened after reading Joyce Carol Oates, but somewhat glad of the experience. Other times, I thoroughly enjoy her work, surprisingly, especially her young adult novels. I've never read Richard Yates. I purchased a short story collection selected by Joyce Carol Oates: the Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction. The stories I've read so far are bleak, so I've kind of set it aside for now (on the double shelved book shelf in my bedroom).

Thanks for the interesting and thorough review!

Tiffany said...

This story really disturbs me. I've not read the book, and probably never will, but the ad for the movie has bothered me since it's first release. Thanks for putting it into words.

shrink on the couch said...

this voice: manly, a bit clipped in comparison to modern voices, restrained yet dramatic in even the smallest conversations and musings, slightly sexist, a streak of hopelessness.

yes, this is how I felt as a read it, a masculine account, "clipped" is an excellent way to put it.

I do wonder if RR may also be a reaction to the Eisenhower years, the decade of "we all strive for the same things, always".

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