Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Buy Revolutionary Road by Richard YatesPublished 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 an 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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