Saturday, June 4, 2011

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

It's always a little scary to jump into a book that comes laden with expectations.  Oftentimes, expecting a book (or anything else for that matter) to be amazing is the perfect way to set yourself up for disappointment.

Revolutionary Road came with such expectations for me.  Richard Yates appeared to be something of a literary darling: quite a favorite amongst book bloggers and respected by his contemporaries, even if his name was a little less known to the general reading populace.  Other than those vague notions, the only thing I knew about the story were the bits and pieces I could remember from seeing the movie trailer once or twice back in 2008.  Now, having read (and loved) the book, I am interested in seeing the film, just to see how it compares.  I'm very happy that I hadn't seen it before reading the book, (so that I was able to get the full thrill-of-discovery experience,) although I can't imagine the movie having anywhere near the amount of detail and insight the book had...even if you have seen the movie I'd still recommend reading the book.

The premise is simple, and I don't think that anything is spoiled by knowing it. Frank and April are a young, disillusioned married couple living in mid-century American suburbia.  The magic in the book comes from the viewpoint on the era, the readability and lightness of the prose, and the incredible characterization.  You may not identify with Frank or April, but if you don't understand who they are...let's just say that it won't be Richard Yates' fault.  However, having some life experience under your belt before reading the book will go far in developing a connection with the story being told.

Richard Yates provides a perfect example of how a literary work doesn't need to be lofty, arrogant, or overly symbolic in order to be well done.  Here is a book with fascinating characters, insightful prose, and a sprightly pace that will leave you thinking and longing for more.  Thankfully, there is more Richard Yates to be had. You can be sure I'll be searching it out.
a quote from page 332: 
The whole point of crying was to quit before you cornied it up.  The whole point of grief itself was to cut it out while it was still honest, while it still meant something.  Because the thing was so easily corrupted: let yourself go and you started embellishing your own sobs, or you started telling about the Wheelers with a sad, sentimental smile and saying Frank was courageous, and then what the hell did you have?
Title: Revolutionary Road
Author: Richard Yates
Pages: 346
Published: Vintage 2000 (orig. 1961)
My Rating: 5 stars

14 comments:

  1. I've got this one on my TBR :) I'm very weird about the whole movie/book thing. I have to read the book first...or I feel like I'm cheating in some way. A movie release will sometimes help me push a book on up the priority list though... :)

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  2. In the past I've done the opposite--I've figured that if I watch the movie first, then I'm more likely to have 2 good experiences, as opposed to being disappointed by the movie since they're usually not as good as the book. This book just might have me changing my mind though--it really was a treat to read it without many preconceived notions or visuals.

    I hope you find the chance to read it soon. :)

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  3. I saw the first part of the movie but had to turn it off in the end because I really wasn't enjoying it. It sounds like the book is much better though :)

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  4. I wasn't a huge fan of the movie, but I've heard so many great things about Yates that I definitely want to give his work a shot. I like that he is able to relate the characters to the reader so well. Always better when I can understand the character and their motivations. Great review.

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  5. I've had this sitting on my shelf for a long time, I'm waiting til I'm in the mood for something a little depressing I think. I've held off seeing the film until Ive read it but I always enjoy comparing them.

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  6. Revolutionary Road is still sitting on my shelf-I just haven't had time yet. But I read the Collected Stories by Yates and thought they were brilliant-and gut-wrenchingly honest.

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  7. I think you'll really like the movie. It's quite good. It was surprising to see Leo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet from Titanic again but their relationship was much more interesting in this one. I haven't read the book yet but it sounds terrific.

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  8. I read the book first and I was glad. I thought the director took out the subtlety Yates has in his novel - instead focusing on the extremes. The acting was good but not stellar - I did not lose myself in the characters and so I could still see the actors - if that makes any sense.

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  9. Oh, I'm so glad you liked this. Yates is such an amazing writer! I still need to write a wrap-up post for my Yates month, but The Easter Parade would be my recommendation for a follow-up.

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  10. I read part of this one before life got in the way, but I will most certainly go back to it. It was an emotionally charged book and the movie was quite intense as well. Looking forward to getting back to it!

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  11. Tiny Libary, the book gives you so much detail into their personalities and thought processes, that I have a difficult time imagining how the movie could live up to it. I'll have to watch it and see, but it seemed to me that the story was only one part of the book--the other part was in how it was told.

    Jenna, it can be hard to find good character driven fiction, (something that doesn't sacrifice plot or writing,) so this was an exciting find. The plot alone would make a pretty depressing story, but Yates made it fascinating as well.

    Jessica, the story is a sad one at face value, but there is so much more to take from it and appreciate. In a way, he points out how silly it is to take oneself too seriously, and in another, he seems to show how vital it is to have hope in something. I hope you're able to enjoy it!

    bibliophiliac, I look forward to reading some of his short stories. After reading Revolutionary Road, I can imagine his shorter fiction would be fabulous. His writing really sucked me in.

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  12. Teacher/Learner, I can imagine that they'd be good in Frank & April's roles. The movie is on its way to me from Netflix...looking forward to it!

    pburt, Yates' writing is deceptively simple...there are so many layers and so much subtlety and yet it's so readable. I have a hard imagining how you could retain the complexity in film form. And especially with uber-famous actors (makes it so much harder to get absorbed in the story for me).

    JoAnn, I'm thinking of buying the Everyman's Library edition of Revolutionary Road, which also includes The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. I'm glad to know that's a good direction to go next--thanks so much for the rec!

    Andi, "emotionally charged" is a great way to put it. I had a hard time putting the book down--even though I occasionally felt like I was watching a train wreck. :) His writing was just so enjoyable to read. Hope you're able to get to it soon!

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  13. Could this have been a good example for your literary blog hop post on influence? Where did those expectations come from?

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  14. Em, this certainly would be a good example about outside influences affecting my reading experience. I had high expectations simply because there were so many bloggers that thought highly of it, and that was definitely on my mind while reading it. It's possible that I ended up loving it even more than I would have without those expectations, simply because I was thrilled to have had them met (or exceeded). :)

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