My friend Clint gave me a book to read, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. He told me that I would like it — and at one point, he was almost going to post it out to me, just so I could read it. So I had a feeling it was going to be a good book.
Now, I am shocked by just how good it is. The first chapter hooked me in straight away, with this quick, beautiful prose, presenting the scene of a local community theatre group, the director giving them a heartfelt speech of encouragement on their final night of rehearsals.
The play turns out to be a flop, and the whole mood of the story changes. But even if this opening chapter was read straight and with sentimentality, as I had, rather than as a set-up for failure, as what the author was probably doing — it was still an amazing beginning; and the rest of the book followed suit.
I found myself almost balling at a few scenes, as the story directly taps into human life, the raising of a family, and the intimacy of a husband-wife relationship, which is a difficult thing to capture.
His poetic descriptions of people, places and mannerisms, are consistent throughout the book. Describing the Knox building where his main character Frank Wheeler works, and where Frank’s father had worked too, he writes:
“It stood in an appropriately humdrum section of lower mid-town, and from the very day of its grand opening, early in the century, it must clearly have been destined to settle deep into that smoke-hung clutter of numberless rectilinear shapes out of which, in aerial photographs, the mightier towers of New York emerge and rise.”
I was also surprised at times of how I had been carried from one point in the story to another, without noticing — particularly, one of his train trips to work — and it would make me go back and study just how he had done it, like a sneaky audience member trying to catch out a great magician!
Now I am still in the midst of reading it — I’ve almost finished — and there is a feeling of human cruelty running through it, too, that is a little bit depressing; that dispassionate angle that a writer will sometimes examine their characters, without fear or favour, showing them as weak or foolish; and as a reader, you feel a part of that judgement. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that in novels, and it probably reflects something about me.
Also, the story seems to be mostly about the breakdown of a relationship, and I already feel angry at the male character for letting it happen. His selfishness — and her despondency — is coming through, and I guess that is what is bothering me, as so much tenderness and maturity had been depicted between them early on.
Anyway, I was going to message my friend, and tell him that this was the best story I had read since discovering Charles Beaumont’s The Intruder around the age of thirty (where I had been so excited by it that l had almost missed my stop coming home from work on the bus). But I guess I have done that now by writing this post!
It’s a great book, and I hope that the ending isn’t too depressing.