Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road" is a portrait of a failing marriage in the confines of 1950's surburbia. Dealing with themes of love, hate, conformity and madness, it is a realisitc and harrowing novel that drives home issues of identity and the desperate search for something meaingful in our lives.
Yates wastes no time in alerting the reader to one of its major themes- the agonising tension between action and inaction. The novel, structured like a play of three acts, opens with April Wheeler's faliure to act with any conviction in the local communities production of The Petrified Forest. It moves on to unflinchingly document the crumbling remains of her marriage with Frank Wheeler, its violent misunderstandings, mutual infidelity and tragically unwanted children. April comes up with a plan to move the family to France, a last ditch attempt to escape the mundane life of a housewife in the depths of comsumerist suburbia. This however is soon destroyed with another unwanted pregancy. As the plan turns to dust around her and Frank tries to persuade her to keep the child, April can no longer cope, leading her to a secret home abortion after the safe window for the procedure has elapsed. The artificiality of the suburbs is unyeilding to the tragedy of Aprils death, and the story is retold by friends as a simple dinner-time drama, leading the reader full circle and allowing them to fully understand the claustrophobia of the surburban life for a 50's housewife,the damaging effects of a rocky upbringing and a cold, collapsing marriage.
"Revolutionary Road" was published in 1961, and although well recieved at the time, fell out of print with the rest of his works both during Yates' life and after his death. However recently unearthed and rejuvinated for its 2008 film adaptation, interest has steadily grown and it has recently been regarded as a modern classic. Set in 1955, Yates places his characters in the middle of a fast growing society, with the recent baby and economic booms leading to an awe inspiring surburban sprawl across America. The book is widely read as an antisurburban novel, although Yates himself stated in an 1972 interview, that he did not intend this and that "The Wheelers may have thought the suburbs were to blame for all thier problems, but I meant it to be implicit that it was their delusion, thier problem, not mine." Yates continued to state that his novel wasn't an attack on the suburbs, but instead on conformity- the title Revolutionary Road, was meant to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 (when America declaired thier independance) had come to a dead end in the fifties.
Written in a collapsing third person, Yates' bleak pessimistic view on life and the human condition acts as a counterweight to advertised America. In the October 1999 issue of the Boston Review, Yates was quoted on his central theme: "If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy." Throughout the novel the theme of isolation and abortion is prevelent. There is an aborted play, several aborted careers, any number of aborted ambitions, aborted plans and aborted dreams- all leading up to a real, physical abortion and death at the end. The Wheelers' battle for meaning represents the tattered remnants of the American Dream.
"Revolutionary Road" has been widely praised, Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five) called it "The Great Gatsby of my time... one of the best books by a member of my generation." Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire) wrote: "Here is more than fine writing; here is what, added to fine writing, makes a book come immediately, intensely and brilliantly alive. If more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don't know what it is."