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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How easily those who fail to conform are labelled 'insane'
Published in 1961, this tale of 1950s suburban despair focuses most squarely on its male protagonist, Frank Wheeler, but it's much more his wife, April's, story. Pregnancy trapped her in the life expected for her, while he looked for (and apparently found) an un-taxing job in a corporation too large and inefficient to see how little he does.
Yet with suburban...
Published on 25 Nov 2004 by Stephen Newton

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars I seem blind to what excites at least some readers.
I came to this novel after reading the author’s earlier work, “Disturbing the Peace” which I found a good deal less than enthralling. However, assured that “Revolutionary Road” was a work of altogether higher standing, I took it on in a spirit of optimism. Again I’m sorry to say I felt disappointed. At no point did the book catch fire...
Published 1 month ago by Bluecashmere.


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How easily those who fail to conform are labelled 'insane', 25 Nov 2004
By 
Stephen Newton (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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Published in 1961, this tale of 1950s suburban despair focuses most squarely on its male protagonist, Frank Wheeler, but it's much more his wife, April's, story. Pregnancy trapped her in the life expected for her, while he looked for (and apparently found) an un-taxing job in a corporation too large and inefficient to see how little he does.
Yet with suburban liberals having grimly hushed conversations on the state of US politics over almost subversive cuttings from the Manchester Guardian and the Observer (I thought US reading of the Guardian was internet trend) and obsession with new technology (Frank sells 'counting machines' and, maybe soon, $2m computers) it's easy to forget that this is the 1950s. Nevertheless, while April's desire for abortion and to go out and work is less shocking to contemporary ears, it still reads as fantasy.
Unhappiness fuels great disdain for all of suburbia and its inhabitants. Rather than pretend to be happy and get on, April dreams of immigrating to Paris, where she images a life of freedom; a life where she'll be the breadwinner and he'll 'find himself'. And Frank allows her to believe they have what it takes... for a time.
Ultimately, Revolutionary Road's not just a tale of despair and isolation, written at a time when the idea of feeling alone in a city of millions was a foreign concept. Or of a woman fighting society's expectations, written pre-feminism. It's a story of conformity and how easily those who fail to conform are labelled 'insane'.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How come I only just heard about this fantastic book?, 27 Jun 2008
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
How come I only just heard about this fantastic book? Set in 1950s suburban Connecticut, it tells the story of the less than idyllic relationship of Frank and April Wheeler. Although an onlooker may see them as an ideal couple in an ideal situation they both have layers and layers of dissatisfaction which come to the surface as their marriage crumbles.

The book was written in 1961 and seems to encapsulate all that we have come to associate with the previous decade. April appears willing to give up any pretence of a career to look after house and children while Frank goes each day to his "boring" office job (but he manages to find time for an affair with a secretary). Everyone drinks and smokes to excess - even in pregnancy. Frank's boss declares electronic computers to be the coming thing.....

Although both Frank and his neighbour Shep sometimes reflect on their time in the army during the war very little of the wider outside world creeps into the empty surburban world of Frank and April and their small circle of acquaintances. April comes up with a plan to move the family to France believing this will give Frank a fresh impetus to "find himself" but from the start you wonder if this will never happen.

Revolutionary Road is powerfully written and draws you into the lives of the Wheelers and their neighbours the Campbells and the Givings. It has some darkly comic moments and many flashes of brilliance. Yes, an American classic.

Did the creators of Mad Men (US TV series) get some of their inspiration from this book?
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Road to perdition, 22 Mar 2009
This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
The Richard Yates back-story has passed into popular literary legend: the acclaimed author who never sold more than 12,000 copies per hardback, and whose works were largely out of print before being rediscovered posthumously and enjoying a revival. For a Yates novice such as myself this might seem a little too good to be true but I felt duty bound to read his first novel 'Revolutionary Road' before its characters were forever synonymous with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (the main players in a recent Sam Mendes adaptation).

Revolutionary Road is a brutal story about marital dysfunction in America during the 1950s, revolving around Frank and April Wheeler's attempts to extricate themselves from the stifling banality of suburban life and begin again in Europe. Unabashedly cynical, Yates gets to the heart of his characters' insecurities and pretensions with unfussy clarity. The author wastes no time in exposing Frank and April for their limitations and displays little sympathy for their (self-destructive) aspirations. This might have seemed too savage had Yates been a lesser writer, and not able to weigh his words with extraordinary perception. Economical in its insights, I found reading 'Revolutionary Road' refreshing following Richard Ford's - himself apparently a Yates disciple - insight top-heavy `Independence Day', which spends so much longer labouring over its observations.

Frank's work on what is later described as "that awful stone path going half way down the front lawn and ending in a mud puddle" becomes a metaphor for the folly of suburban espousal. The Wheelers' marriage, like the garden path, "was turning into mindless, unrewarding work, the kind of work that makes you clumsy with fatigue and petulant with lack of progress", and was also halted prematurely in an ugly mess.

Despite the drama of the Wheelers' marriage breakdown taking place in an authorial third person, he takes occasional dips into their memories. It is in these private explorations of character that he is at his least cynical and most empathetic:

"the mists of an absorbing dream still floated ... of a dim and deeply tranquil time long ago. Both his parents had been there, and he'd heard his mother say, 'Oh, don't wake him, Earl; let him sleep'. He tried to remember more of it, and couldn't; but the tenderness of it brought him close to tears ...'

Revolutionary Road is particularly touching when it talks about both April and Frank's relationships with their fathers. The latter recalls a tender childhood moment with his:

" 'Open it!' That was one of his earliest memories: the challenge to loosen one big fist, and his frantic two-handed efforts, never succeeding, to uncoil a single finger from its massively quivering grip ... But it wasn't only their strength he envied, it was their sureness and sensitivity - when they held a thing, you could see how it felt- and the aura of mastery they imparted ..."

The power of hands, always intrinsic to the idea of male gravitas - so important to conservative 1950s America - has a double function in the novel, representing both conformity and masculinity. Frank describes his father's hands as somehow ontologically charged, that "when they held a thing, you could see how it felt," even though Frank has little respect for the choices his father - a company man - made in life. Despite Frank's misgivings about the mindless grind of the nine to five, he still compares his own grip - his masculinity - unfavourably to his father's, even on his death bed, remembering that "when they lay loose and still on the hospital sheet at last they still looked stronger and better than his son's". Indeed, when Frank is chastened by grief, his friend Shep notices with disgust "the light, dry press of his handshake, you began to see the life had gone out of him".

Frank is finally neutralised by tragedy in a way that the electric shock therapy fails to do to John Givings, the mentally unstable son of a neighbour. Frank and April initially see an affinity in Givings: "He's the first person who really seemed to know what we're talking about," says April, with Frank replying "I guess that means we're as crazy as he is". The twin notions of insanity and conformity were echoed in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which was published a year later. At first, John Givings seems to have good reasons to have gone mad, having been raised by a woman who represents everything the Wheelers despise about suburbia: the keeping up appearances, the nosiness, the false friendliness. Mrs Given's is described brilliantly early in the novel as a woman ...

"whose eyes expressed a religious belief in the importance of keeping busy. Even when she stood still was kinetic energy in the set of her shoulders and the hang of her loose, angrily buttoned-up clothes ...

'April! April! I just wanted to tell you that we loved the play!' Her strained, shouting face could have been the picture of woman in agony."

Although Mrs Givens borders on parody, she is pardoned by the author who softens his stance by showing her crying because "she was fifty-six years old and her feet were ugly and swollen; she cried because none of the girls liked her at school and none of the boys had liked her later", in another unsparing dip beneath the surface.

Mostly though, Revolutionary Road is about selfishness and ego. Take, for example, Frank's recognition of his wife's unhappier childhood, unsure 'whether he felt sorrow for the unhappiness of the story or envy because it was so much more dramatic a story than his own'. This selfishness is shared by the Wheelers' friend and neighbour Milly Campbell, who finally transforms Frank and April's misfortune into sensationalised gossip to impress new friends - to her husband's disgust. That the novel rings true doesn't detract from the fact that Revolutionary Road is a dispiriting read, and while not entirely lacking in compassion certainly brutal in its assessments.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite simply, one of the best American novels of the 20th century, 16 May 2008
This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
An astoundingly well told tale of a couple trying to live happy lives in 50s America. Devastatingly accurate its portrayals of vanity, manhood and ambition as well as deceit, depression and the absurd faces we put on situations attributed to being part of 'normal life'. This is one of the best, most potent American books I've read and it's not hard to see why it was regarded as a classic from the moment it was published.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel, a Great Writer..., 4 Feb 2007
By 
Heather "star_reader" (Leeds, Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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I first came across this novel on my English Lit degree course, on a module on alienation and having read some of the other required reading, i had a 'feeling' i would enjoy this novel. Well... i was not disappointed. It really is one of the best novels i have ever read. I have read it twice now and know i will come back to it again in the future.

It is beautifully crafted, sometimes touching, dark, occasionally funny but incredibly sad. The final chapters are some of the best i have read.

Yates is a great but undervalued writer... more people should read this amazing book.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Criminally under-rated, 14 April 2002
By A Customer
A lyric and intensely moving evocation of the cracks behind the white picket fences of suburban America. Yates's writing is understated yet at times breathtaking, and his satire is never less than razor sharp. Above all, though, his characters really do come alive. In fact, Revolutionary Road could easily give The Great Gatsby a run for its money for greatest American novel of the twentieth century, and as a diehard Fitzgerald fan that is saying something. Please buy this book - it deserves to be so much more than a cult classic.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I didn't like it but it's brilliant, 8 April 2009
By 
Suzie (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
Don't be put off if you find `Revolutionary Road' somewhat tedious at first. A brilliant exploration of the underlying feelings, dissatisfaction, and innuendo that can cause a relationship to develop, flounder, and finally fall apart, it's not an uplifting story, nor are any of the characters particularly appealing. For large parts of the book I really couldn't care what became of any of them. By the end, though, I was drawn into their lives to the point where, whilst still not liking them, I did at least feel some sympathy for them.

I can't even say that I liked the book - it's hardly an entertaining read, there's no feel-good factor and some may find it rather depressing - but I've given it 5 stars because, despite everything, it's an exceptional novel. You have to stop and think about the technique in order to appreciate just how perceptive and penetrating Richard Yates is. His attention to everyday detail is outstanding. The observations are so astute and often so subtle that it would be easy to read over them at a superfluous level and not appreciate their contribution to the story.

If you're not interested in the minutiae of relationships or are after an enjoyable holiday or bedtime read this is not for you. But it's a classic of its kind, a novel every serious reader should tackle at some time or other.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "No-one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.", 19 Feb 2014
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
Frank and April Wheeler have the perfect 1950s lifestyle - the nice house in suburbia, the two children; he with the daily commute to a good job in the city; she, a home-maker, beautiful and decorative - the middle-class, mid-20th century American Dream made real. But strip away the superficial and we find two people who have failed to be the people they expected to be, who are living every day with the disappointment of what they and each other has become. There is a desperation at the heart of this book - the desperation of rats caught in a laboratory maze.

Although Yates takes us into the minds of most of the characters at points, we mainly see the world through the eyes of Frank Wheeler. The book begins as April takes part in an amateur performance of The Petrified Forest - a play with the central theme of artistic and intellectual worth trapped in a loveless and humdrum existence, but where tragedy leads to escape. No coincidence that this should be the play that Yates chose, and no coincidence either that the performance should fail badly, leaving April publicly humiliated. Already in these early pages, Yates has signalled his major themes of intellectual elitism, entrapment and failure.

Frank once aspired to lead the life of an intellectual, perhaps to be a Hemingway, defying convention and rejecting the lifestyle of his parents. He was feted in his student days as one of the coming generation, a brilliant conversationalist who would (in some way that he never quite got around to pinning down) have an intellectual impact on the world. April - beautiful, cool, aloof - aspired to be a serious actress. Each attracted to the other's projected image rather than to the underlying person, they seemed an ideal glittering match, until the reality of pregnancy forced them down the path of conventionality towards earning a living and making a home.

Now they are trapped - by their children, by society, but mostly by each other. As they fail to be what they anticipated they see their failure reflected back to them from the other's eyes. It is only when April comes up with a radical plan to allow them to regain their lost glamour as free-wheeling intellectuals that Frank begins to realise he may no longer have the courage to pursue this dream - to risk discovering that he lacks the intellectual wherewithal, the belief in which has been the foundation of his sense of snobbish superiority over his neighbours and colleagues. When April reveals that she is once again pregnant, for Frank it is an excuse to retreat back to the safety of his conventional life. But to April it's another trap - to keep her in a lifestyle she never wanted and to prevent Frank from becoming the man she thought she was marrying. For April, the coming child is her prison - for Frank, it is his escape.

Yates is brutal to his characters, shining a light so bright there's nowhere for them to hide. And through them, shining a light on this '50s society, perhaps the last generation where women were still so irrevocably defined by motherhood and the men they married; and perhaps the first generation where men were beginning to question the role of masculinity in an increasingly white-collar world. Frank's ambivalence towards his father is based on a mixture of intellectual condescension together with an unacknowledged jealousy of his physical skills, embodied in the recurring image of his father's powerful hands.

Post-war, we see a generation of ordinary men who had access to higher education, often as the first in their family to do so. Where for Gatsby the American Dream was about money, birth and beauty, Yates shows the '50s as a time of two dreams in conflict - the security of middle-class suburbia and the excitement of intellectual escape - with his characters caught between them. And yet Yates also seems to suggest that neither dream is worthy of pursuit - that somewhere along the way the lofty aspirations of previous generations have narrowed and shrunk down to this.

The '50s were a time of huge change - the beginning of the decade still reflecting pre-war values and conventions, and the end looking forward to the surge of youth culture, sexual freedom and social upheaval that typified the '60s. Yates brings the period brilliantly to life in this shortish novel that nevertheless has space to look not just at the characters as individuals but also at the society and culture they inhabit. His depiction of Frank's workplace as a soulless maze of pointless paper-shuffling is superb, reflecting the growing struggle, for men in particular, to find some sense of fulfilment and worth when there is no physical input and no visible end result.

Yates captures the language of the time so well that I could hear the dialogue being spoken in my head. These words could have been spoken at no other time and in no other place. And yet for all the talking in the book, there's no sense of communication - each character is ultimately alone, desperately trying to hide behind the image they project. There are moments of quiet beauty in the writing, and an integrity in the characterisation that leads the reader to empathise even when we see them stripped down to their worst flaws and insecurities. And perhaps we empathise most because he makes us fear that we recognise ourselves in there somewhere. A masterpiece.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When a novel reveals social truths, 26 Jun 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Richard Yates's first novel is about two members of that post-war "herd of independent minds" (to borrow a phrase of the cultural critic Harold Rosenberg). They are symptomatic of an emerging generation comprising individuals who each think they are special, talented, and intended for greater cultural or intellectual things. Indeed, I marvelled at the way Yates has encapsulated in his novel themes that were emerging in social psychology at the time - he diagnoses key problems of American post-war affluence.

Most readers of "Revolutionary Road" sympathise with the lead characters, and lament the tragedy that occurs. But something bad was bound to happen. It always was.

Frank is a jerk. He is depicted as a victim, although I have no sympathy for him. He likes to talk big, pretend he is superior; but he is all bravado. And he knows it. His own uniqueness falls into a pattern, a well rehearsed groove, because beneath his surface alienation, Frank is a corporation man (as defined by William Whyte a few years before in his book The Organization Man) who won't buck the system.

Unfortunately, Frank's wife April fell for his spin all along. April is a tragedy waiting to happen. Her problem, partly, is that she has never found meaningful work. The victim of an affectionless and unstable childhood, she was stuck in an acting course - a cut-price substitute for a finishing school - and raced into early marriage craving love. But a couple of years later "the feminine mystique" (as Betty Friedan defined it in her remarkable book The Feminine Mystique) has kicked in and, trapped in the role of homemaker, April is undergoing a crisis. She doesn't know who to blame: the community, Frank, herself? Her self-esteem is non-existent.

The entire book may be focussed on Frank, but it charts April's floundering and self-destructive depression. (It makes a strong contrast with George Johnston's My Brother Jack where the male character has the nervous breakdown, and his social climbing wife makes things much worse.) Indeed, the problems are all there are the start when April feels publicly humiliated, and instead of comforting her, Frank himself feels humiliated. His self-absorption, and feeling he is always the suffering victim, is the problem all along.

It's a tragic book, a truthful book, very much a document of the flawed aspirations of its times. Frank probably gets what he deserves; April gets what she doesn't deserve, but circumstances always dish out for people in this dependent position.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Universally Poignant, 20 July 2009
By 
Mr. P. G. Mccarthy (Southampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
Review by Cathy McCarthy age 20

Revolutionary Road is the story of April and Frank Wheeler, a couple trapped in sub-urban life in post-war America. Frank has gone from being a bright young man with endless possibilities to a father of two, in a job that doesn't interest him and married to a woman who doesn't really love him. April, it seems, is a woman who could never be happy and will ultimately always be living a lie.

With the constant intervention of both past and present influences, this mis-matched couple is destined to end in tragedy.

Richard Yates has somehow managed to take what could be an incredibly dull and unimportant story and turn it into a masterpiece. With perfect execution he has brought a rather grim story to life where many other authors would have killed it cold.

Yates' prose is undeniably skilled, so much so that although he has chosen to write in the third-person he has mastered the illusion of being inside any character's head at any given time. Without the complication of switching from one character's narrative to another's, the text has a very clean feeling, even on the subject of dirty things.

The novel opens on the rehearsal of a somewhat precarious play, then leads on to the opening night. In this relatively short chapter Yates has the reader feeling the emotions of everyone in the theatre, the initial hope, nerves and cringing disappointment. Though perhaps a little emotionally exhausted, he has you (for want of a better word) hooked.

Revolutionary Road's main theme of helplessness in the face of wanting more runs flawlessly throughout the novel giving it a grim and dark and wholly gritty feel. That natural desire to be more than we are is something any reader can relate to, making the book universally poignant. It is a pumped body-builder of a book and should not be missed.
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Revolutionary Road (Vintage Classics)
Revolutionary Road (Vintage Classics) by Richard Yates (Paperback - 7 April 2011)
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