revolutionary road

I’ve heard people say they don’t enjoy character-driven books; they want a clear, compelling, forward-moving plot that carries them through the story.  I, on the other hand, will take a novel full of well-crafted, complex characters over one full of action any day (all else — quality of writing, subject matter, etc  — being equal, of course).  But typically, the ones that draw me in are full of characters I connect to, characters I can sympathize with and relate to and usually like.  Otherwise, you’re just reading  a book about people that mean nothing to you.

And while Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road is certainly a character-driven novel, its characters are not particularly easy to like or connect to.  The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of Frank Wheeler, a pondering, thirty-year-old man who seems generally discontented with his stereotypical 1950s life — two kids, a house in the suburbs, and a job in the city — and seems to spend much of his time in imaginary conversations, preparing witty comments meant to convey his contempt at this “hopeless emptiness” he thinks they are all living in.  His wife April is perhaps even unhappier, and comes off as bored and sullen.  Throughout the majority of the book, she is one of the weakest characters; I found several of the supporting characters — the Wheelers’ friend Shep, the interfering Mrs. Givings — to be more fully dimensional.  But perhaps, she is conveyed this way because this is how her husband views her through much of their story.

But in spite of these flaws — or because of them? — Yates builds an absorbing world around the Wheelers.  For while the characters themselves aren’t particularly relatable, their frustrations are.  The Wheelers’ essential struggle is between their expectations and their reality, and the plot follows their efforts to make the two line up.  Yates creates a convincing sense of the time period, and though his dialogue feels redundant at times, it captures the tone of the relationships.  This tone is crucial; it expresses both the sentiments the characters feel toward each other and the societal roles they are functioning within.

In Revolutionary Road, Yates paradoxically tells a story of love and anger and frustration with a sense of distance while still making the reader feel for his unlikable characters.  It’s a simple sincerity that pulls the reader so entirely into his novel, and it is for this reason that this book will likely be on reading lists for years to come.

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~ by Molly on July 16, 2009.

2 Responses to “revolutionary road”

  1. we just watched this movie and felt that your description is right on the money.. we’ll have to check out the book now! thanks!

  2. I wholeheartedly second your emotion re: willingness to take well-developed characters over a quickly-paced plot any day. That’s probably why I also loved Revolutionary Road. Bravo on a great review.

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