Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I saw the trailer to Revolutionary Road and it intrigued me.  However, I’ve read a lot of critical reviews saying that the book is extremely better.  Thus, I decided to check out the book and then see the movie afterwords.

The book starts off slow with the main characters, Frank and April Wheeler.  They’re a married couple and they have fulfilled the American Dream: a family, a couple of kids, a house in a nice neighborhood, Frank has a steady job, April stays home and takes care of the kids.  They have it all.  The story takes place in the 1950s and the 1950s was a time where everyone tries to be everyone else.  It’s the age of conformity.  On a tangent, I think every age has this.

The book has an extremely simple plot, but it’s the theme of the book that grabs the reader: what if fulfilling the American Dream doesn’t make you happy?  I guess using Aristotle’s language, what if you’re happy and content, but you haven’t achieved eudaimonia?  That’s what this book is about.  How do you do that?  How do you escape from the comformity of it all?  The characters find a way to escape, but through circumstances, they are forced to abandon their ultimate dream and must stay in the neighborhood.  So here’s the question: many people have died for the American Dream.  Indeed, that was what the Revolutionary War was about.  Would you be willing to sacrfice something big to get away from the American Dream?  Welcome to Revolutionary Road.

At the same time, I saw this as an existentialist book too.  How can you stand out as an individual?  How do you get away from the conformity of society?  Can you live out your life living what you really want to do instead of having a job where it may be stale?  Would you rather have an authentic existence, or financial security?

Yates does a wonderful job of expressing his characters that makes you relate with them.  I really admired Frank and April and I despised the neighbors.  The neighbors are your typical cookie cutter neighbors from the generic suburbs.  As the book moves, you want to read more and more of it.  It gradually sucks you in and it’s an instant page turner as you read more of it.  I loved the ending.  It’s as if these tragic events happen, but we either ignore it or we try to explain it away.  Yates is powerful is suggesting, “here it is.  Don’t look away!  Don’t turn your back to this!  You must face reality!”  Reality is indeed not a fun place, but it’s the truth.  Which would you rather have: happiness and conformity, or reality and melancholy?  Yates suggests to go for the latter.  At least with that, you’ll have your own true existence and individuality.

I should also add.  If the trailer intrigues you, you might like the book.  When my dad saw the trailer, he just thought it was a couple bickering.  I guess it has to grab you first in order for you want to read it.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Book Review, Existentialism, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

  1. DeWitt Henry says:

    I agree that this is a novel that askes fundamental questions about selfhood and society, and in that sense makes the reader work. If the reader is lazy, complacent, or seeking self-congratulation, this is not the trail to ski, as it were. I hope you go on to read the Collected Stories and Blake Bailey’s biography A TRAGIC HONESTY. All of Yates’s work is enriched by relation to his life. You might also enjoy my account of friendship with him in SAFE SUICIDE (

    • shaunmiller says:

      Thanks for the info. It’s on my list of books to read. I’m really intrigued with the philosophy of relationships, which includes friendships. I’ll look forward to reading it when I get the chance.

  2. Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be coming back to your posts.

  3. shaunmiller says:

    I finally saw the movie. As usual, the book is superior to the movie in every way. It seemed that the movie missed out on the existential crisis of the characters. For example, they wanted to move to Paris because of some existential angst. But in the movie, it seemed they wanted to move because they were tired of where they were living and perhaps they saw it as a permanent vacation. Pick of the book over the movie!

    • Erik Granneberg says:

      Well, it was filmed here. Didn’t see the movie though. They brought in about 50 antique cars, tied up our little village for three days, changed the signage for the stores…….etc. etc. then never used the scenes they shot. They only used the scene from the beach. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘stars’..although after reading this blog..may read the book.

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