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John Self 23rd Mar 2006 16:21

Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
Starting 1 April.

Colyngbourne 25th Mar 2006 18:08

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
Rah! Have just bought it but might not be ready by Apr 1st.

Colyngbourne 4th Apr 2006 8:48

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
I can see why all the praise now :-D I can see the tremendous writing, the depiction of the conflicting lives and desires of so many characters, and the way their past bumps up against their present, and how the demands of their milieu and time savage the yearnings for something other - for betterment or individuality or *love* that says its name and you recognise it at once and can hold it in your sweaty hand to keep. I can see the relevance of threads like the Work/Life Balance here too. For all that, (and I will read more Yates, I know) it doesn't hit the ***** note.

Again, it's not that I am looking for a happy ending here. Every step you took in this book was like treading on thinning ice. But it's probably a question of psychology: I don't need sugar to sweeten a bitter coffee - but I think a book that doesn't glean at least a flicker of joy or happiness that *means* something (instead of being ground down to dust); that contains a single character for whom there is the possibility of hope, or who actively hopes, is not a work that is reflecting the full truth about humanity. I can say I liked very much some of the characters in Revolutionary Road, but I could love none of them, nor hope for any of them, or see any crack in the gloom of life that was described. And my head can't get round that ultimately: in every crappy life and hopeless scenario (or just in the blandest of lives) there is something positive or good in a person involved that shines through. There is something to be grasped that can show that or reveal that to a character or else simply to the reader, even though the characters never see it themselves. I suspect that is where Mr Yates and I part company, because I don't think he believes that or is else trying to show that there are lives that are 100% agonising to live and without hope of redemption of any sort (and that there are many of them, too, all around us). For me, the evidence goes the other way. If he could give me just 1% in a single character that indicates that life has not been an utter waste (as far as the characters are aware), I could happily award him five stars.

It was a fantastic read however: I was feeling Gatsby, and Arthur Miller, and Eugene O'Neill, and Salinger and Larry Darrell, all hanging over the story's (and especially Frank's) shoulder.

John Self 4th Apr 2006 10:24

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
At the risk of shocking the Palimpopulace to its core, I too am giving Revolutionary Road short of five stars. This might be because since I first read it, I have read four more Yates novels and his short stories, and some of those are more polished and mature than Revolutionary Road (as well they might be, RR being his first novel). Either that or his particular world view seems less remarkable on a second reading. It remains, of course, a superb novel and well worth anyone's - everyone's - attention. Specifically, too, I felt I could have done with a little more subtlety this time around. Yates never ever passes up the opportunity to spell out precisely what a character is thinking, usually about another character, and sometimes I would like to work it out for myself.

The particular strengths of Revolutionary Road are that it has a stronger plot, or at least a more complete storyline, than some of his other novels, which are more scenes-from-a-(rotten)-life; the wit, such as the last scene with Mr Givings's hearing aid, which is less on display elsewhere in his work; and the beautifully worked opening descriptions in many of the chapters in the second part of the book, such as the band led by its drummer, who doesn't realise how bad he is. (Though this too sometimes felt like a violation, or description too far, as it was never clear whether the assessment of the drummer's skills was being done by one of Yates's characters, which is fair enough, or by Yates himself, which isn't.)

So I would say that Revolutionary Road is best judged as a gateway drug to the world of Yates, which contains work no less great such as Cold Spring Harbor and Young Hearts Crying - and indeed many of his stories - rather than some stand-along masterpiece without equal or sequel.


Colyngbourne 4th Apr 2006 10:26

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
Which would you say was a better 'next Yates read', John? - Cold Spring Harbor or Young Hearts Crying?

John Self 4th Apr 2006 10:34

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
I enjoyed Young Hearts Crying more, I think - it's his longest novel and has wider scope than Cold Spring Harbor.

jim 4th Apr 2006 11:49

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
Judging by what you've written Colyngbourne, I would suggest A Good School which is probably his jolliest novel.

Colyngbourne 4th Apr 2006 12:33

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
Thanks for the suggestions. It is, however, not so much that I want a jolly novel, but that I don't agree with what appears to be the Yatesian take on life. I don't mind dour, bleak novels per se (or bleak endings either) but there is nothing for the reader to hang on to that says something positive and good about humanity (even if the characters in the book can't recognise it themselves). The two novels of his I have read so far would seem to be negating, repeatedly, something I believe to be true. (Though that ending of Easter Parade looks more positive, the more I recall it...)

jim 4th Apr 2006 12:45

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
I was being facetious. Obviously you're not going to get jolly with Yates. I should perhaps have said that it contains more of the elements which you describe than his other novels.

Colyngbourne 4th Apr 2006 12:52

Re: Book 23: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
8) I was too much in a literal-minded mood this morning. Thanks again!

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