Writers are Readers: Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road”

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Ever since I decided to “get serious” about “this writing thing,” I’ve been reading more than ever.**** When I say “get serious,” I mean doing something about the writing I have been churning out for years. When I say “this writing thing,” I am referring to the reason, I believe, I was put on this earth. And the **** is just a little inside joke for those of you who know me in real life. I am always, always, always reading. Now, I am just always, always, always reading more. 

So. Revolutionary Road.

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I never saw the movie which is crazy because, hello? Kate and Leo. Obviously, I would normally see this movie. I used to stop watching Titanic right before the iceberg so I could believe they lived happily ever after (oops, spoiler). But someone told me what this Leo and Kate movie was about…a marriage dissolving, and I thought that maybe I could forgo such a feel-good night at the theater.

But books are different. I will read anything if the writing is good or if I can learn something from the writer. I learned a lot from Yates. From the very first pages (okay, so I read it on Kindle for iphone), it was clear that Yates is brilliant in capturing a reader, taking him or her inside a character’s head. I knew exactly what Frank (the husband, played by Leo in the movie) wanted to say. I knew his intentions. I watched as he interacted with his wife, April (played by Kate in the movie) and all his intentions disappeared, like water slipping through his fingers.

Honestly, I feel like I got such insight into how relationships destruct. I felt it emotionally but I could also map it out. Oh, here is where she misunderstood what he meant to say. Oh, here is where he became defensive. No one goes into any relationship (no one sane) with ill intentions. But life happens. Frank does his best. April isn’t responsive. Frank goes awkward. April goes defensive. Fight ensues. The characters’ names flip flopped throughout the book in ensuing situations. But there is no bad guy here. They are just doing the best they can.

It scared me how easily the best intentions could be misunderstood (and because the novel is so true to life in this way). For awhile, Frank and April dream of moving to Paris. They escape the doldrums of everyday life by planning for a future the reader knows is never going to happen. But again, this is true to life as well. It had me asking myself, how often do I choose to live in a pretend world instead of reality? What’s the difference between a hopeful dream and a hopeless one?

That’s not the only question the book had me asking. Which is more true to what you believe: what you think in your head or what comes out of your mouth? How closely do my words match what I truly mean? How often do I misunderstand someone else and how often does that misunderstanding have consequences? And to what degree?

I expected this book to be a sob fest of depression and what I found instead was that Yates is master of subtly. You know how the book will end from the very beginning, I’ll be honest. But yet, as a reader, I wanted to believe in this image of April on stage and Frank watching her: “It didn’t even matter that bearing two children had left her a shade too heavy in the hips and thighs, for she moved with the shyly sensual grace of maidenhood; anyone happening to glance at Frank Wheeler, the round-faced, intelligent-looking young man who sat biting his fist in the last row of the audience, would have said he looked more like her suitor than her husband” (Yates, 9). At moments, Frank and April want to believe it too; they want to believe they are different; they want to believe they will go to Paris. And yet, reality is so far from that image, and it’s exactly that, an image.

Which is the truth? That image or this explanation of one of their fights: “(the fight) quivered their arms and legs and wrenched their faces into shapes of hatred, it urged them harder and deeper into each other’s weakest points, showing them cunning ways around each other’s strongholds and quick chances to switch tactics, feint, and strike again. In the space of a gasp of breath it sent their memories racing back over the years for old weapons to rip the scabs off old wounds; it went on and on” (Yates, 36).

When things are good Frank thinks, “this was the way he had often wished marriage could always be–unexcited, companionable, a mutual tenderness touched with romance…” (Yates, 249) But the wish, the dream, is far from reality. And the Wheelers’ choice, as a couple, to turn from reality has serious consequences.

If you’re a writer, read this book. These characters are incredibly believable as are their relationships. You know them inside and out. Even if you aren’t a writer, read this book. I felt like I gleaned a lot when it comes to human nature and yes, the nature of relationships.

Surprisingly, five stars.

five stars

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Writers are Readers: Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road”

  1. Alicia

    It hurts my heart to read your thoughts about the book. I still believe in a healthy marriage… it’s just so hard when media constantly exposes us to lying, cheating, ill intentioned people. With a 24 hour society it’s the biggest challenge I think to stay present and live with two feet on the ground with the people around you instead of going to a make believe world where you think you may want to be instead. Everyday is a day to practice mindfulness and truly be grateful for the relationships you have. Truth and really listening to someone can change lives. Nina I will definitely read this book 🙂 thanks for the suggestion.

    1. Nina Post author

      I agree with you, Alicia. I believe in a healthy marriage. I guess maybe I should have been more clear that it is a cautionary tale of how easily relationships can deteriorate when two people aren’t being truly mindful and don’t believe the best In one another. I’ve found that is the biggest thing in any type of relationship…believing the best. Otherwise, you really can doom it. But yes, I do recommend the book because of the insights it gave me and how easy it is for things to fall apart without believing the best.

  2. Jasmine

    I actually watched the movie and was just really depressed…and, hate to admit it but I didn’t even know it was based on a book! Your review made me want to read the book, it is usually way better than the movie anyway 🙂 I always appreciate good writing, I am going to add it to my list!

    1. Nina Post author

      Jasmine, I talked to someone right after they watched it and after hearing them, there was no way I was going to see this movie. The book is different. It really does have much more subtly and there is a sense of if only. But it had me asking so many questions and really puts human nature under a microscope. Let me know what you think!

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