Saturday, June 23, 2012

Revolutionary Road: Proving it's possible to hate every character and still love the book

Frank and April Wheeler first crossed paths at a party in New York City, when their hearts were young and running free.

Events directly preceding their first meeting.

April didn't have any particular direction in life, and neither did Frank. But they shared at least two things: debilitating baggage from the separate failings of their parents and the central goal of being more fabulous than anyone else in the history of ever.

Their romance was whirlwindy, and then they got married because it seemed like a fun activity for a weekday. But with one catalyzing event, their lives started getting less and less fabulous.
"Wasn't it true, then, that everything in his life from that point on had been a succession of things he hadn't really wanted to do? Taking a hopelessly dull job to prove he could be as responsible as any other family man, moving to an overpriced, genteel apartment to prove his mature belief in the fundamentals of orderliness and good health, having another child to prove that the first one hadn't been a mistake, buying a house in the country because that was the next logical step and he had to prove himself capable of taking it. Proving, proving; and for no other reason than that he was married to a woman who had somehow managed to put him forever on the defensive, who loved him when he was nice, who lived according to what she happened to feel like doing and who might at any time---this was the hell of it---who might at any time of day or night just happen to feel like leaving him. It was as ludicrous and as simple as that." (p. 53)
They never resigned themselves to the life they were living. They were constantly expecting to transcend circumstances they deemed unworthy of their self-conceptions, constantly at odds with each other and their home and work and friends and coworkers . . . and, most tragically, with their role as parents.

For the first 20 pages, I marginally identified with Frank and April. My husband and I are frolicking through a nontraditional life in a nontraditional neighborhood in a nontraditional city. At this point, neither of us would go quietly into an office job or the suburbs. But that's where the comparison ends, I hope . . . because I LOATHED these people. They are probably the most shamelessly selfish characters I've encountered in literature, and not just April and Frank; EVERY SINGLE character is competing to be the most self-involved, and they're ALL WINNING. And that's kind of the point. Well, it's ONE of the points. There are an astonishing number of points (without being preachy, I promise).

Now watch as I wantonly compare this book to other things: In terms of themes, I can trace major parallels to Blue Valentine, and at least a few to American Psycho. You'll have to figure out what those parallels are. Think of it as a very sad Easter-egg hunt. Find an egg; take an antidepressant.

Kitty self-medicates after learning the American Dream is a lie.
SOURCE: Yates, Richard. (1961). Revolutionary Road. New York: Vintage.


  1. As the Crowe FliesJune 24, 2012 at 5:45 AM

    It's hard to imagine liking any of those characters--I didn't read it but I saw the movie and it was fairly agonizing to sit through. If I'd been reading it I would have wanted to toss the book across the room. Still, I love how you can love a book while simultaneously hating the characters--I felt that way about Serena by Ron Rash.

  2. Your post title says it all. You just want to shake these characters; "Do you HEAR yourself?" They really are despicable. And yet, I liked the book too. Leaves your insides a bit hollow, but, you know, in a worth-reading kind of way. And the kitty gif makes me feel a lot better.

  3. They share "the central goal of being more fabulous than anyone else in the history of ever." This is the truest thing that's ever been said about anything ever. They are clearly terrible terrible people, but I ALSO like this book. What is that about?!
    Also, I see where you're coming from with the Blue Valentine and (kind of) American Psycho thing- and I don't know if you've seen the movie, but I think that owes a massive debt to Mad Men, which kind of, in turn, owes a debt to this book, a bit, maybe.

  4. I think it's very admirable that you can hate all the characters but still love the book -- I tend to just get really angry if the characters aren't at all likeable. At least one needs to be tolerable for me to enjoy a book.

    Not sure this one's for me, but I did really enjoy your review! Also, that really would be the saddest easter egg hunt in the history of the world. Although maybe not quite as sad as finding the your easter egg basket and realizing your parents bought you "healthy" treats instead of chocolate...

  5. I stayed away from the movie because the trailer alone made me want to cry in the closet. I *may* be ready to watch it that I've survived the book.

    I'm not familiar with Serena, but I just read the synopsis...and WHOA. Those characters sound despicable.

  6. My insides are the hollowest...but the book really is beautiful and SO worthwhile.

  7. Laura, we've already established that we are masochists when it comes to books and movies. And this book is the equivalent of sitting in an ice bath for 3 hours...but in a good way?

    I haven't seen the movie, but I want to now. What is it about DiCaprio and tragic characters? He plays ONLY the most tragic of all the tragic characters. It's probably written in his contract somewhere.

  8. This might be the first time that's ever happened to me. I remember being kind of in awe of how much I loved the book, even as I was mentally kicking every character in the face.

    Healthy Easter treats?! The horror!

  9. See now I hated the characters but because of that I couldn't like the book. I need SOMEONE to glom onto who is not the most awful, selfish person ever. I'm also trying to figure out the American Psycho theme but whenever I think of that book for too long I remember the rat scene and my brain shuts down to save me from the awfulness.

  10. I don't think I've ever liked a book where I hated the characters - props for sticking with the book!

  11. One of my biggest fears is ending up in a relationship like Frank and April's. I feel like it's scarily possible. Ugh. I felt the same exact way about Blue Valentine. So sad, and too possible.

  12. OK...I'll TELL you what the American Psycho connection is, because I don't want you to have rat nightmares. Ummm...crap. What IS the connection? Oh oh! Everyone is wrapped up in their own drama and doesn't notice the INSANITY going down nearby. And also that corporate office jobs will eat your soul. I think that's pretty much it.

  13. It wasn't hard to finish, actually! It's gorgeously written...and it feels honest.

  14. Oh,'ve gotten to the heart of it. I have no reason to doubt my marriage, but if I even THINK about what it would feel like to hear my husband tell me he never really loved nearly floors me. And it IS scarily possible, because people change and circumstances change and LIFE happens. But that's the risk we take for love, I suppose.