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Everything gets aborted in the book. That was supposed to be the theme of the book. I remember when I was first working on it and feeling my way into it, somebody at a party asked me what I was writing a novel about, and I said I thought I was writing a novel about abortion. And the guy said what do you mean by that? And I said, it's going to be built on a series of abortions, of all kinds - an aborted play, several aborted careers, any number of aborted ambitions and aborted plans and aborted dreams - all leading up to a real, physical abortion, and a death at the end. And maybe that's about as close to a real summation of the book as I've ever come.
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with Richard Yates (DeWitt Henry, Geoffrey Clark, Winter 1972, Ploughshares)

At the core of nearly every critique of bourgoise and suburban life resides a lie, that the critic is some sort of higher being--typically artistic--who is or would be stifled by the conformity of this existence. While Revolutionary Road is often read as just such an indictment, it lays bare the lie with such savagery that it ultimately has to be considered a satire upon the anti-suburban attitude. Structured as a tragedy, it is instead a comedy, demonstrating how closely related the two really are.

Frank and April Wheeler live on the street of the title in a Western Connecticut town. Frank, who had vowed never to get stuck in a job like his father's, now works for the very same company. He pretends that it's all a lark, a way of showing how little effort he can put in and still get by. April has given up the pursuit of an acting and stays at home with their two kids. She comforts herself with a notion that appears even more pretentious and absurd when you see it in writing:
I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere. People who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I'd suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I'd been meant to be one of them all along.
But as the book opens she's starring in a local adaptation of the "Petrified Forest." It is expected to be a triumph for her--surely she'll outshine her cohorts--instead turns into a disaster. Here is the first inkling that the Wheelers not only aren't superior to their current lives and their neighbors but may not even be up to the very challenges they look down upon.

In short order we discover that Frank is in trouble at work too, having sloughed off his duties. Similarly, his attempt to build a stone path in front of their house deteriorates into fiasco and neither can figure out how to plant the sedum their real estate agent drops off for them. Frank drinks too much, roughs April up on occasion, a cheats on her with a secretary at the company. And as their former dreams and ambitions begin to be exposed as delusions they descend into vicious arguments.

A respite comes when April takes up the idea that they should move to Paris. Her treatment of Frank improves and he earns good reviews at work. But, given that he's suddenly succeeding at suburban life, Frank secretly welcomes the unplanned pregnancy that ruins the Paris plan. This whole facade comes crashing down when the realtor's schizophrenic son (a classic Shakespearean "fool") observes:
I wouldn't be surprised if you knocked her up on purpose, just so you could spend the rest of your life hiding behind that maternity dress.

The rest trudges with some inevitability to the final abortions that Yates mentions above. April aborts the baby herself and dies as a result. Frank becomes a kind of walking zombie. The neighbors realize the Wheelers were failures and "a rather strange young couple." A husband who lusted after April decides that he's better off with his own wife, who is at least alive. Even the dead sedum plantings, discovered in the basement of the house, represent the inability of the Wheelers to keep anything alive. With that, the prosecution rests.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Richard Yates (2 books reviewed)
Richard Yates Links:

    -OBIT: Richard Yates, Novelist, 66, Dies; Chronicler of Disappointed Lives (ERIC PACE, November 9, 1992, NY Times)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Richard Yates
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Richard Yates (IMDB)
    -FAN SITE: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness: A website for Richard Yates
    -FAN SITE: Best of Everything: The Richard Yates Archive
    -WIKIPEDIA: Revolutionary Road
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
    -AUDIO SHORT STORY: Richard Yates reading Best of Everything
    -INTERVIEW: Moving the Story Along (Herbert Mitgang, 10/28/84, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with Richard Yates (DeWitt Henry, Geoffrey Clark, Winter 1972, Ploughshares)
    -PROFILE: Drinking With Dick Yates (MARTIN NAPARSTECK, May-August 2001, The North American Review)
    -PROFILE: Out of the Wreckage: Richard Yates knew enough sorrow to fill a bookshelf. At the end of his life, when I knew him, he was still working on it. (J.R. Jones, November 14, 2003, The Chicago Reader)
    -PROFILE: Yates gets new mileage out of 'Revolutionary Road': Richard Yates' 1961 novel about life in America after World War II was critically acclaimed but never sold well until now. The author died in 1992 at age 66. (Bob Minzesheimer, 1/22/09, USA TODAY)
    -TRIBUTE: ELEVEN KINDS OF LONELINESS (Dennis Loy Johnson, May 29, 2001, Moby Lives)
    -TRIBUTE: Rebirth of a dark genius: John Updike and Philip Roth we know - but the great forgotten novelist of 20th-century America is Richard Yates. His debut, Revolutionary Road, was a critical success in 1961, but over the decades his books were neglected and Yates sank into alcoholism and nervous collapse. Now, with his work being reissued and a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet imminent, is this true visionary finally about to join the giants of American fiction? (Nick Fraser, 2/17/08, The Observer)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: A Tragic Honesty: the Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Blake Bailey - A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates (Joe Donahue, 2009-05-27, WAMC)
    -PROFILE: Golden Globes preview: Richard Yates at the BPL in 1978 (Carly Carioli, 1/10/09, the Phoenix)
    -INTERVIEW: Blake Bailey: Author of A Tragic Honesty converses with Robert Birnbaum (Robert Birnbaum, 1/10/05, Identity Theory)
    -ESSAY: Richard Yates' Real Masterpiece: What Kate Winslet doesn't tell you about Yates and women. (Blake Bailey, Jan. 5, 2009, Slate)
    -ESSAY: The Lost World of Richard Yates: How the great writer of the Age of Anxiety disappeared from print. (Stewart O’Nan, Boston Review)
    -BOOK LIST: 100 Best English-language novels since 1923 (Lev Grossman, TIME)
    -PROFILE: Meet Richard Yates (Elizabeth Cox, Pif)
    -ESSAY: America's great secret: Why did Richard Yates never make the literary big time?: Richard Yates was one of the 20th century's best writers, but he never made the literary big time. (Esther Walker, 8 January 2009, Independent)
    -ESSAY: A writer revived (Dan Wakefield, Pif)
    -PROFILE: Movie may renew interest in Richard Yates: Public could discover American author's books through seeing Winslet and DiCaprio in award-winning film Revolutionary Road (Stephen Amidon, 1/18/09, Times of London)
    -PROFILE: Revolutionary Road Finds Readers, If Not Viewers (Andrea Sachs, Feb. 20, 2009, TIME)
    -ESSAY: On Richard Yates,/a> (Kevin Rabalais, 1/17/09, The Australian)
-PROFILE: Richard Yates (Nicholas Basbanes)
    -ESSAY: Watching Seinfeld With Richard Yates: Postcard From New York City (Therese Eiben, 9.25.03, Poets & Writers)
    -ESSAY: No Success Like Failure: From the wreckage of his life, Richard Yates salvaged a few good books (Daphne Merkin, FEB/MARCH 2009, BookForum)
    -ARCHIVES: richard yates (Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (James Wood, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Richard Ford, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Benjamin Lytal, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Adelle Waldman, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Lee Siegel, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (John Mullan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Sarah McIntyre, RTE)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Edward Marriott , The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (First Tuesday Book Club, ABC)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Anthony Giardina, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Patrick, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Vince Passaro, Oprah)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Elisha Maldonado, Spartan Daily)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Jessica Schneider, Monsters and Critics)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Jeris Swanhorst, Classic American Fiction)
    -REVIEW: of The Easter Parade by Richard Yates (Douglas Kennedy, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Easter Parade (Jessica Schneider, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Liars in Love by Richard Yates (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Liars in Love (Robin Tower, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Cold Spring Harbor by Richard Yates (lowry Pei, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates (Anthony Quinn, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Collected Stories (Michinko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories (Maria Russo, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories (Jon Garelick, Providence Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories (Ann Beattie, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories (Scott Blackwood, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories (Lisa Allardice, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories (Michael Arditti, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of A TRAGIC HONESTY: The Life and Work of Richard Yates. By Blake Bailey (John Sutherland, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Tragic Honesty (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (William Boyd, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (Eric Ormsby, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (John Freeman, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (James Wood, Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (John Leonard, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (Richard Klin, January)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (Kathleen Andersen, Rain Taxi)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (Kerry Brown, Jacket)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (Christopher Tayler, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (David Flusfeder, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Tragic Honesty (Stephen Amidon, New Statesman)

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Richard Yates (IMDB)
    -INFO: Revolutionary Road (2008) (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW ARCHIVE: for Revolutionary Road (Metacritic)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (MANOHLA DARGIS, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Beth McCracken, Christianity Today)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Tim Black, spiked)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Linda Zalamea, Hollywood Jesus)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Anthony Quinn, Independent)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Jonathan Romney, Independent)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Nick Schager, Slant)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Peter Rainer, CS Monitor)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Owen Gleiberman, EW)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Scott Foundas, Village Voice)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Al Hoff, Pittsburgh City Paper)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Jane Shilling, Daily Mail)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Revolutionary Road (Charles McGrath, NY Times)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Revolutionary Road: Suburban Man alive and well in Oxted: Life in the suburbs is dull and stifling, according to the makers of 'Revolutionary Road'. But, as the film bids for Oscar glory this weekend, Jasper Gerard finds suburban man in Britain has never been happier. (Jasper Gerard, 19 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Realist Vision By Peter Brooks (James Wood, New Republic)