I took a break from reading Against the Day (and from the summer of long novels) to read Revolutionary Road. The main reason I took the break was because I was flying to Chicago and didn’t feel like lugging an 1,085 page hardback. It’s now August of my self-imposed summer of reading fat novels and I still have more that 200 pages left in Against the Day. I was hoping to have this and at least one other fat novel done before Inherent Vice comes out this week but that’s not going to happen.
The break for Revolutionary Road was worth it. I read about half of it on the plane and in Chicago, and I finished the second half the week we got back. I was not at all familiar with the book or with Richard Yates until I read a review of the movie. I have a strange fascination with the suburbs, especially in the development of the suburbs (as a place and as a way of life) in the years following WWII. When I read what the setting was in the film review, I knew I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie.
Revolutionary Road is reminiscent of the works of Raymond Carver and captures a similar post-war ennui as something like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Like those works, Revolutionary Road does not paint a pretty picture of post-war suburban life. For Frank Wheeler, in Revolutionary Road, and Tom Rath, in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, life in the suburbs and in business is drab and uneventful compared to their experience in the war. This discontent wreaks havoc on their family lives.
What’s difficult to appreciate is the novelty these works presented in the late 1950s. In the 21st Century, the idea that the suburbs are not some kind of blissful paradise is rather banal. But, at the time, this idea was unconventional and daring.
The film, Revolutionary Road, doesn’t quite live up to the novel, but it quite excellent. The film is very faithful to the book, with, of course, many scenes left out for length considerations. Having read the book, I wondered if these exclusions left too many gaps in the narrative and left too much unexplained. The biggest omission was the background story about Frank and his father. This background gives great weight to Frank’s working at Knox. In the film, Franks does explain a little bit of this background, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the actual scenes in the book. That said, the film still holds up well on its own. Even though I am not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, I knew he would make a great Frank Wheeler. Kate Winslet is likewise a perfect April Wheeler.