By Richard Yates, published 1961
This is a novel many people know, if only for the broad strokes. Due to my area of research (and interest), I am going to consider it in terms of April’s desire to not have children and the supposed implications of her own childhood.
April is a mother of two living in the suburbs of New York with her husband Frank Wheeler. Early in their relationship, April became pregnant and intended to have an abortion until Frank talked her out of it. They’re miserable together, floundering in the boredom of suburbia, and April decides that it would best for them all to move abroad, allowing Frank to finally do whatever it is that will make him happy. He is a man of ideas who people look to for entertainment and thoughtful perspective. April persuades him to along with this plan, even though he has a nagging feeling he’s not as interesting as people think. When she gets pregnant again, they must decide if she will abort it so they can move to Europe, or if she will continue the pregnancy and remain on Revolutionary Road.
This decision allows for several weeks of contemplation to take place, most of which is provided from Frank’s perspective. He is determined to convince April to continue the pregnancy and forget her dreams of living abroad for the moment. He’s on the cusp of a big promotion and seems to have a moral opposition to terminating the pregnancy, although he never truly articulates it. Given Frank’s incredible vanity and tendency to mansplain, I tend to believe he is simply afraid of not living up to April’s standards if he were set free in Europe. April wants to do an at-home abortion, using a technique explained to her years ago by a friend. It is not until Frank tells her the reason she doesn’t want the baby is that her own mother was awful to her. He suggests that because she doesn’t want another child she needs psychotherapy.
We get only one chapter dedicated to April’s perspective, and unfortunately it comes very late in the novel when we can assume her rationality has been compromised by years of Frank telling her what she should think and do. This novel, to me, is a razor-sharp look into the patriarchal households depicted in The Feminine Mystique from the man’s perspective, with its many flaws and inequities on full display. Men dictating terms, women dying of boredom at home but believing something is wrong with them.
The prose is absolutely impeccable, the dialogue easy and engaging. I wanted the book to go on forever, if not for my intense hatred for Frank by about two-thirds through. He is unconsciously manipulative, controlling, and cruel. Frank and April’s fights are unforgettable, with the cutting words only spouses can hurl at each other. The music, smoke and liquor linger long after the novel ends, evidence of it’s lasting impact. If Frank is not as interesting as he believes himself to be, the story of his life is makes up for it. Five stars.