Saturday, June 20, 2009

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

As a general rule, once I have seen a movie based on a book, I do not go back and read the book (I do not have the reverse rule and often love seeing a movie after enjoying a book). The reason for this is that once I have seen a story play out on the screen, I have a very difficult time imagining characters on my own. I heard that Revolutionary Road was a fantastic book, and quite different from the movie. So, despite my better judgment (and after having found the movie brilliantly acted, but incredibly depressing), I borrowed it from the library. I must have heard wrong because the movie is nearly a verbatim script of the book (though the book has a bit of foreshadowing missing from the movie). And I could not help but hear Leonardo DiCaprio's voice everytime Frank Wheeler's dialogue came onto the page. But, if you have not already seen the movie - this book is quite fantastic. It is the story of a young couple living in suburbia. They lead a seemingly perfect existence. Frank spends his days at a rather mundane job in the city, and April is the consummate housewife. But, of course, there is more under the surface. April, once an aspiring actress, joins a local acting troupe and is disappointed by her performance. Her dissatisfaction in this one area is simply a manifestation of her overall unhappiness living the life everyone else wants her to lead, but which she knows she and Frank never intended. They hatch a plan to move to Paris, but when April discovers that she is pregnant, real life threatens to swallow up her dreams (she reminds me very much of Betty, Don Draper's wife in "Mad Men"). Frank too has a lot of anger and frustration surrounding his job. He has an affair with a co-worker and in many ways finds himself trapped in the role of domestic provider. There are a couple quirky characters along the way - my favorite in the book being the husband of the Wheeler's real estate agent (the role of their schizophrenic son garnered a Best Supporting Actor win from the movie). Like the movie, this book left me with a feeling of great emptiness - of the truth that survival, success, and family, often require choices which leave behind the dreams that brought us so much happiness in younger days. Revolutionary Road is about more than just the typical suburban angst and addresses some pretty shocking choices. It is finely written, but difficult for me to determine what reaction I would have had to it if I'd read the book before watching the movie. Not recommended for anyone looking for light-hearted reading.

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