Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

One of the movie reviewers I read said that he thought the
book
Revolutionary
Road
was one of his favorite novels of the second half of
the twentieth century, but the movie was one of his least
favorite movies of 2008. So I decided I should read the book, and
I finished it last night.

I enjoyed it; I was born in 1951, so all the costume and home
decorating descriptions are of things that I can just
remember, and they seem accurate.

I think the best thing about the book is the descriptions of
the characters’ body language, for instance, in this first scene
with the Wheelers and the Campbells:

…they sank into various postures of controlled
collapse.

Milly Campbell dropped her shoes and squirmed deep into the
sofa cushions, her ankles snug beneath her buttocks and her
uplifted face crinkling into a good sport’s smile — not the
prettiest girl in the world, maybe, but cute and quick and fun to
have around.

Beside her, Frank slid down on the nape of his spine until
his cocked leg was as high as his head. His eyes were already
alert for conversational openings and his thin mouth already
moving in the curly shape of wit, as if he were rolling a small,
bitter lozenge on his tongue.

Shep, massive and dependable, a steadying influence on the
group, set his meaty knees wide apart, and worked his tie loose
wiht muscular fingers, to free his throat for gusts of
laughter.

And finally, hte last to settle, April arranged herself with
careless elegance in the sling chair, her head thrown back on the
canvas to blow sad, aristocratic spires of cigarette smoke at the
ceiling.

The weakest part seems to me to be the description of Frank at
work. It’s laudable for a novelist to try, but it doesn’t ring
true to me that someone who has been trying for years to not
think about his job at all would suddenly come up with a piece
of writing about it that would impress upper management so
much. Or that having done the impressing, the job wouldn’t
start taking up more of Frank’s mind than the omniscient
narrator leads us to believe that it does.

If I were casting the movie, for the female lead I’d go straight for January Jones,
who plays the troubled suburban housewife on Mad
Men
. But I can imagine Kate Winslett doing fine. I’m glad
they didn’t go for Gwyneth Paltrow, who is in my opinion
overrated. When she did Sylvia Plath, she convinced me that she
could commit suicide, but not that she could write poetry.

For the male lead, I was initally dubious about Leonardo de
Caprio, since it’s obvious that at the start of the book he
should be much less attractive a figure than his wife. But as
the plot unfolds and he becomes more confident and she becomes
less so, I can imagine him playing down his matinÉe idol
looks at the beginning and then uncovering them gradually.

I haven’t seen the movie, nor is it on my Netflix list, and I’m not
going to put it there unless someone tells me something better
about the movie than I’ve heard so far. But I do recommend the
book if you’re at all interested in marriage, work, madness, and
general life in the nineteen fifties.

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