Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review: Revolutionary Road

A couple hatches a plan to leave their conventional American suburban life and move to France; but the husband finds that he’s getting some recognition at his otherwise soul-crushing job and finds a way to put off the dream.  Very bad things proceed to happen. 

Sounds like a warning to a couple who want to take a month off to go to San Francisco but run into resistance from his job, doesn’t it?  It does, according to many who, having seen the movie, couldn’t resist telling us about the story.  And in some ways the book is indeed a tale of how suburban conformity can take away your life.  But there’s another current in the book that warns from the other direction.  The main characters, Frank and April Wheeler, are miserable in the suburbs because, well, they condescendingly despise their fellow suburban dwellers.  It’s one thing to hate the conformists from a commune or an artists’ collective.  You may be prick, but at least you’re an honest one.  But what’s the happiness percentage among those who hate suburban life from the comfort of the white picket fenced house from which they take the train to and from their meaningless corporate job?

What Revolutionary Road does so well (and the book is, as a blurb on the cover says, "flawless") is not make you hate the stifling suburbs; it’s not even clear that the author, Richard Yates, thinks the suburbs are actually all that bad.  What it makes you do is pity the poor souls who think condescending thoughts about people who are, in truth, just like them.  So yes, there is a warning in Revolutionary Road, but it’s applicable to far more people than just those looking for a trip to escape for a while.  It’s warning to anyone living a life that isn’t authentic or true.  You can pull it off for a while, but eventually, living a lie will kill you.


Erin said...

The idea of suburban conformity seems kind of outdated to me. Perhaps we should consider it just one result of "white flight" that's now being counteracted by "regentrification" (Sorry...I hate that word...but it is the word that is used.)

In fact, the word doesn't even cross my mind until I leave my particularly diverse suburb and go to visit you guys in NW DC and am hit with conformity like a ton of bricks - or, rather a ton of affluent young lawyers in gray sipping coffee and jogging around Dupont Circle.

Bungalow Builder said...

Brent -
I am now inspired to read the book, having seen the movie last year. I agree with your analysis that the scenario in the book is not a condemnation of the suburbs, but of living a life that is not your own. It goes back to the notion that only YOU can control the choices you make in your life and thereby the circumstances in which you find yourself.
I hope your job doesn't hassle you too much about your month in SF! :-)