>by Richard Yates
Many people include this novel, published in 1961, on their list of best novels of the 20th Century. It reminds me of the very best John Cheever, and is as dark and tense as Cheever from the very beginning. Frank and April Wheeler have moved with their two children to Revolutionary Road. Frank commutes to a deadly job at Knox Business Machines which, in the mid-Fifties, is on the cusp of the main-frame computer era. The couple met at the end of the war and they have grand ideas about how life should be lived, and that isn’t how everyone around them goes through their mundane days. They make plans to move to Europe and April thinks she’s rescuing Frank from Knox. But their scheme is derailed, and things fall apart.
In post-war America, Frank should have greater ambition, but he is burdened by his relationship with his father. April, too, is struggling with her dysfunctional family, and her own ambivalent motherhood. These people drink to excess. They reationalize their failings. And ultimately they aren’t strong enough to carry out their revolution.
The early part of the book suggests that we are getting Frank’s story, from his point of view. But as time progresses, we shift into April’s point of view, and later we see the Wheeler’s from the points of view of their neighbors, Shep and Milly Campbell, and their real estate agent, Helen Givings.
Whether or not this is one of the most important books of the last century, it is one of the most readable and rewarding.