Monday, 14 May 2012

Revolutionary Road

I just finished reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and it slayed me.
Like demolished me.
Books rarely ever get to me like this, that I find it hard to concentrate on simple bbms even, but wow. It truly gets inside  you and wrenches your heart and guts.

I don't know whether that would be a reason for anybody to read this, because despite being brilliant it is soul crushing. Also, I am thoroughly biased, since I loved the movie as well, which was a given that I would since I love Leo and Kate quite a bit. Although, I must add having watched the movie was detrimental to the book experience since I had a pretty vivid picture of the characters in my mind, so my opinions were pre-determined. It would have required something short of a miracle for me to not like the book and not sympathize with both the protagonists.
The character of April Wheeler, perhaps in any other case would've annoyed me, or I would have classified her as very difficult/ unlikeable/ ungrateful woman except for the fact that in the movie she was played beautifully by Kate Winslet- who fashioned the character so brilliantly in the movie that we understood her plight. That is how she is supposed to be, its just that I find it very hard to be sympathetic towards most female characters in books.

Same with Frank Wheeler, I already imagined my Leo saying everything, or lets be honest I remember exactly the way he delivered his lines, and I understood him. Although, in the book, Frank is supposed to have been a little more manipulative ( in a person in a relationship going through a difficult period sort of way, not psycho abusive husband sort of way) which was something I never got in the movie. Maybe its because I have special dreamy filters on whenever I watch Leo,so I didn't see the character flaws, or it was something that the screenplay didn't delve into and bring to the audience's attention as the book did.
What was really cool was how faithful the movie had been to the book. Apart from what I just mentioned above, everything else was the same.Like religiously faithful.  Usually that's not the case with most bookmovie transitions but then again I've only seen adaptations of fantasy novels (Harry P), and well, that can hardly be accountable since the books are an entire universe on their own.
Anyway, the book is poignant, soul crushing and deeply melancholic.
Quite simply, its about the mind numbing boredom and monotony that plagues a life of social conformity and practicality. Its about being weighed down by youthful dreams and idealistic hopes  that remain unrealized due to the sad practicalities of life that we feel the need to abide by, since that is simply how things are done.

 Its actually quite similar to Pete Campbell's plight in the latest season of Mad Men.
 The common denominator is the suburbs.
 Alot of American literature, and such works in the media really portray the suburbs as the place where the human soul dies.Where the need to blend in, forced at first, eventually shapes who you become, and before you know it you don't recognize yourself anymore.

The Wheelers for example, form the ideal postcard picture of American Suburbia. A handsome couple, with two beautiful children in a cute little house, on a winding road in Connecticut. The man commutes to the city everyday by the train, the wife stays at home and does the housewife bit . They seem happy.
You  take a deeper look into the adults' lives and realize that this is never the reality that they wanted for themselves, but were almost conned into it because it seemed like the right thing to do.What made it the right thing to do? Well everyone does it. It seems like the next logical step, as defined by society.
Yet the Wheelers like all individuals felt that they were different, and they were self assured in their individuality. Their chosen lifestyle was just a means for everyday comfort, and that did not essentially define them as or classify them with other suburban types.
But it did.
They were as ordinary or extraordinary as everyone else. They weren't any different.

Frank Wheeler, was almost content living the life of a suburban stereotype while pledging his true nature was more akin to that of a social rebel. His suburban-ness (in all aspects of his life) was just something he indulged in for now, until he figured out what it was he actually wanted to do. He was almost okay with the existence of cookie cutter variety, as far as in his mind, his friends and his wife (especially his wife)  he was viewed as someone extraordinary. Basically all talk.
April Wheeler, his wife on the other hand saw things for what they were. She saw that their existence, despite their regular discussions about being being different, was exactly the same as the others. She knew that they had almost become people that they had never wanted to be .She wanted to actively change the entire dynamics of their living, rather than just talking about it over drinks and smokes. She suggests they pack everything up and move to Paris, where she could work to support them and he could figure out what sort of work made him happy. Practicalities be damned. And that was working for them for a bit, until it wasn't. And then that was that.

In my opinion, one of the most telling parts of the book is that when the Wheelers disclose their big plans to move to their friends/colleagues/neighbors. Each and everyone (except John Givings) has similar reactions, infront of them and in private. Usually the announcement  was followed by alot of questions of the practical variety before a congratulatory, but empty - good for you type thing. But in all of their cases ; the Campbells, Frank's colleague and Mrs Givings, a sort of envy was apparent-the Wheeler's had found a way out of the 'comfortable little God damn mediocrity' their lives had come to personify. It was as if the Wheelers' plan to move to uncovered the 'hopeless emptiness' that they felt in their own lives, and brought it in clear view. They had not done anything about it, instead cover it up and pretend that it never existed, or was just not 'practical'  while  the Wheeler's were going to. It was as if the inadequacies of their own lives seemed to great to bear in the wake of the Wheeler's big announcement.

When the plan to move falls through, you can almost understand and feel the triumph that the various parties feel when told about it. Its like their lives had gotten a stamp of approval. They immediately felt better for not going after their dreams, because the Wheelers' too gave up on theirs. The 'comfortable little God damn mediocrity', then again seemed a fine space to reside in,and their confidence was restored in the choices they had made in their lives. Perhaps mediocrity was a fine space to exist in, we see Frank Wheeler surely open up to it and sort of prefer it to the unknown; however it just didn't cut it for April Wheeler.

The sense of foreboding that we get towards the end of the book perhaps cos i saw the move), is unmistakable. The morning after the last fight, when April Wheeler makes breakfast for the two of them, and is being so 'nice ' about everything. You see that Frank Wheeler being caught off0guard by her wife's behaviors and his genuine interest in his work just as he imagined her to have in his many fantasy conversations with her, the reader realizes that Frank responds very well to suburban domesticity, despite all his ramblings professing the opposite. At the same time, April just isn't that girl.

So before giving everything away I should stop. I would highly recommended this book but with warning  that it takes a hammer to your gut. At least that's how it was with me. I'd still read it again though, and probably will.

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