‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple in their late twenties living in Connecticut on the Revolutionary Hill Estates with their two young children in 1955. Frank commutes to New York City but finds his job at Knox Business Machines very dull with few long-term prospects while April had dreamed of becoming an actress before marriage and motherhood led her to be a housewife. They long to escape their life in suburbia which they see as stifling and unfulfilling but their circumstances change when April discovers that she is pregnant again.
‘Revolutionary Road’ addresses dissatisfaction and disillusionment with careers, relationships and family life, and shows that “fear of missing out” isn’t a new phenomenon which only applies to the millennial generation today. Frank and April feel as though life is passing them by for different reasons, eventually leading to increasing resentment on both sides with neither appearing to be capable of making the other happy. The opening scene in which Frank fails to comfort April after the disastrous performance of a play put on by her community theatre group followed by their vague plans to move to France so that April could be the breadwinner while Frank finds his true passion in life are early indicators that things will not end well for the Wheelers.
In many ways, ‘Revolutionary Road’ is reminiscent of Stoner by John Williams. Both novels were “rediscovered” by readers decades after they were first published in 1961 and 1965 respectively, and they are similarly understated and realistic in style. Yates’ exposure of Frank and April’s hypocrisy and the idealisation of everyday life in the post-war era may seem harsh and unflattering but he is also very perceptive in his portrayal of their self-deception and their justifications for their actions which for me was the most unsettling aspect of the book. Frank and April constantly compare their lives with those of their neighbours and believe the banality and tedium of life in the suburbs is beneath them – the irony being that they soon become rather tedious themselves.
Yates is entirely unsentimental about nostalgia surrounding the concept of the American Dream and the successful film adaptation released in 2009 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet will ensure that the novel won’t fade into obscurity again. It’s easy to see why ‘Revolutionary Road’ continues to resonate with a 21st century audience and has cemented its status as a timeless modern American classic.