Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

One of the movie reviewers I read said that he thought the
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

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

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

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
. 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.

The sedge is still not withered from the backyard

I had a gift certificate to White Flower Farms a couple of years ago.
The thing I wanted to buy most (rhubarb) cost less than the
certificate, so I had to order something else, so I looked at the
ornamental grasses and picked out a sedge. I made the mistake of
planting it behind the mint and the daylilies, which are taller
than it was, so it wasn’t a lot of use in the summertime, but all
through the winter of 2007-2008, it stayed green and nicely

That winter was what I think of as normal, and it might have in
fact been on the mild side of normal, but it certainly got lots
colder than it does in any of the places Keats ever hung out, so I
started thinking about what he could possibly have meant in La Belle Dame Sans
when he said:

The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

I discussed this with my
who has a degree in botany, while we were walking by a
lake in early April, and she pulled up a sedge plant to look at it. It was a bit
more withered than the one I got from White Flower Farms, but much
less withered than any of the other grass-like plants growing by
that lake.

So we concluded that when Keats said, “The sedge is wither’d
from the lake,” he meant, “Even the sedge is wither’d
from the lake.” And his audience probably understood that it
meant that it was the end of a really long hard winter, instead
of just getting the generalized picture of bleakness that we

This has been one of those winters here in Southern New
England. As an urban dog-walker, I measure the difficulty of a
winter by how many days there’s ice on the sidewalks, not by
which species of grass-like thing has withered from the lake
shore, but this has been a bad one. And as you can see, the sedge is still nice
and green. Maybe the sedges Keats knew were more
wither-prone than the one White Flower Farms sent me. Or maybe
he was writing science fiction, and imagining that the
knight-at-arms was hanging out somewhere colder than he had ever

Today I’m giving a concert, with
lots of practicing and packing beforehand, and celebrating my
birthday afterwards, so there won’t be time for a blog post.
So I’ve scheduled one from the spindle; I hope it works.

The sedge is not withered from my backyard
The sedge is not withered from my backyard