"This is my neighbourhood, this is my street, this is my life, I'm 42 years old, and in less than a year I'll be dead. In a way, I'm already dead." This doesn't exactly make for the start of a feel good book, as we are told this in almost the first moments of the film. So where does the book go from here?
In the flashback that follows Lester takes us on a guided tour of his awful life - a life, ironically, that he's worked long and hard to achieve. Here we watch the story of a man that like a lot of men who started out having certain ideas about the kind of life they wanted, has somewhere along the way lost himself and his dreams. His life is going nowhere; he's nothing to look forward to and ultimately nothing to live for. The love and meaning in his life have slipped away, and there is no consolation or satisfaction in the things he does have - financial security, a nice house, - The American Dream. These things are no longer important because he is now a man who fears growing older, losing the hope of true love and loosing the respect of those who he loves the most.
So what happens next? Angela happens, his daughter's flirtatious teenage friend. She makes him remember how he used to feel and remember the things he used to want. In this he suddenly realizes the lack of honesty in his life in that he does not say what he actually feels and does not do what he actually wants to do. These feelings have always been there but until Angela came along they have long been dormant, she has reawakened them.
Lester now begins to dream again. Angela is his dream. His thoughts of her may be a little impure, but they are not perverted. She is merely the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and a metaphor for what he desires - his youth, excitement, sexual fulfilment. Angela may not be the ultimate answer to Lester's problems but she is at least a temporary channel for his freedom for it is his thoughts that break him free from his years of emotional paralysis. In this it is not really about his relationship with Angela, but what Angela prompts in Lester. She stirs up something that has long been dead in his life.
Lester now becomes reckless, foolish, wild, everything he was not at the beginning of the movie. It is with Joy that he announces to his wife at the dinner table, "I quit my job, told my boss to - - - - himself and blackmailed him for $60,000." Lester knows that in doing this he is ruining his future security for a few flashes of freedom, but he chooses to do it anyway. He chooses to do it because the future years represent an empty and mundane life. In his mind, he may be loosing everything but he's no longer a loser because he's happy.
His search for freedom is closely linked with his yearning for youth and the things that come with youth - respect, freedom, beauty, and most of all, dreams - some people say that the moment a man stops dreaming, he begins to fade away. The first thing Lester spends his $60,000 is on a bright red 1970 Pontiac Firebird, the ultimate American symbol of freedom, beauty, dreams, and youth. In doing what he is doing, he is not going through a mid-life crisis, but rather a rebirth. He has realised how precious life is as a result of Angela, and it is this realisation and remembrance of joy that has caused him to realise the pain of how he was living. In his mind, the so-called American Dream (middle class suburbia) was really an ugly American Nightmare. This is the greatest book I have read in a long time and could not stop thinking about it for days after. It says a lot, and if you're prepared to listen it can be quite enlightening about your own life.