23 January 2009

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

The preview for the movie was appealing, and then I started seeing all these articles about this "forgotten classic", "the most depressing novel ever written" and I was highly intrigued. I managed to find a copy without Leo and Kate on the cover (don't even get me started on how much this annoys me) which had the added hook of a praise blurb from none other than Kurt Vonnegut. I don't normally pay too much attention to praise blurbs, but if Kurt Vonnegut tells me a book is good, I'll read it. And big surprise, he's right - it's a fantastic book. Indeed, a major downer, but really marvelous writing. The style actually reminds me of Salinger, there's a kind of melancholy austerity to it, but it's incredibly evocative and penetrating. The inner lives of the characters are phenomenally rendered, in that fantastic, slightly ironic way that I adore. It's the Madame Bovary of the American suburbs.

I can't make up my mind about the ending. I don't want to give it away, but as any of the reviews of the movie will tell you, it's not a happy ending. One of the things I liked about the book is the way that it's absolutely tragic despite the fact that nothing really happens, and that is somehow far more poignant than the actual tragedy that the text ends with. But then, maybe that's the point? I can't make up my mind. 

I want to add that one reviewer, I can't remember who, made an important distinction concerning the novel - it's not about how the suburbs ruin people's lives. It's about people who blame the suburbs for the ruin of their lives. This, to me, is an absolutely crucial difference. If you take the first view, you end up like the characters, if you take the second, there's still some hope for you, maybe. 

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