annotation by Devin Galaudet
Several years ago I started reading a book by Michael Chabon named, the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Within a few pages, I found myself reading the book slower and slower. I loved the book and within a hundred pages I decided to limit the amount of pages I was reading it at one time. I settled upon three. It would eventually take several months to finish it, but glad I took the time I did. I wanted to savour it and appreciate it as a great piece of writing and story telling. Turns out I was not alone. Kavalier and Clay became the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2001.
This was my big problem with Revolutionary Road. Within ten pages or so, I wanted the same time to slowly read Revolutionary Road. Normally I would just drag it around with me reading it in the bathroom, waiting to pick up my kid and later kicking around what I had just read. No such luck.
I had to read this one quickly, plowing through it in airports and, in fact, skimming chunks at a time and annoyed with what I was doing, while I was doing it. What made matter worse was the same applied with the other required book for the month, The Things They Carried – I would have chosen to read this one slowly as well.
So what did I like that made me want to read it slowly? For starters, the book starts out in the third person plural – and does it well. Who the heck does that? I must say just the attempt was captivating because it is unusual and appropriate to the rise and fall of the entire company, which could be a bit of an analogy for the whole novel in its hopeful beginning and that eventually snowballs into tragedy. The initial “they” could be talking to the Wheelers in general by presenting a charming young couple that take that same nose dive in personally tragic turns.
Yates does a great job in unraveling what I thought I knew about the idyllic 50s and Happy Days by presenting a seemingly upwardly mobile couple and showing their increasing flaws before turning their lives into a tragedy with April Wheelers death from a botched abortion. I imagine a very dangerous topic in 1961. Moreover, Yates has this ability to tell this story better than the story itself might suggest. Unhappy couple find themselves above the Jones and more than their suburbanite lives suggest. In their plans to escape.
The narrative, as well as the dialogue, was serious, believable and at times pretty funny. I think at one point Frank listens to Bart become more dignified by using words like, “obviously and furthermore” instead of “fart and bully-button. And then toward the end when the faceless morass of doctors were describing the end of April by using only bits of disjointed dialogue that pulled the reader into a chaotic situation and/or listening with chaotic ears. Both were engaging and effective.
I also have there are subtler things going on so I likely missed lots of details and literary devices. So I will be rereading this one again over the next few weeks, maybe months because there is a lot here to digest and learn from. I have also picked up Yates’ collection of short stories.