“..leaving the page of the book carelessly open” – Anne Sexton

Yates’ Revolutionary Road

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 30, 2009

revolutionaryroad1The film rights to Revolutionary Road were first sold in 1967. If only a film had been made back then…

I fully intended to write my thoughts and impressions of Richard Yates’ unforgettable novel, Revolutionary Road the minute I closed its final page. Unfortunately the film had been taunting me for too long and I gave in and watched it the very next day. I wish I hadn’t.

Richard Yates, tortured genius that he seems to have been, created what I think is a perfectly written and realized piece of literature in Revolutionary Road. Not a word, sentence, paragraph, character sketch, plot or punctuation point is amiss in his story about the tantalizing and disappointing effect of the American Dream on a young New York couple in the mid-’50s. “Is that all there is?” is still a fairly common question even in the modern world, where people rush to create “the good life” while abandoning their true destinies and then wonder what they missed.

Reams have already been written on the book and its place in the American literary canon. Here are two great articles. The first by American writer Richard Ford, adapted from his introduction to the current  edition of Revolutionary Road. And the second a look at Yates’ work by novelist Stewart O’Nan.

Essay; American Beauty (Circa 1955), The New York Times, 2000, Richard Ford

The Lost World of Richard Yates, Boston Review, 1999, Stewart O’Nan

yates1Now, I’m a huge fan of Mad Men, the AMC television show that is a nostagic and ironic look at the ’50s, which seems to highlight the politically incorrect habits of a few generations ago; the smoking, drinking, the blatant racism, the lunchtime affairs, and the accepted idea that a man’s wife is his property to do with as he pleases, including slapping her around, consultations with her psychiatrist as though she was his child, etc. Some people I know refuse to watch because they just don’t want to remember, and help glorify, a time when people (esp. men I guess) behaved badly. My parents were a young married couple in the ’50s and I think one reason I like the show is because it sheds a  new light on some of their marital issues, on my mom’s love of martini’s and Frank  Sinatra, and also – and this is a big one folks – I like remembering a time when it was customary for men to wear suits and ties and women dresses. A time when people were still courteous and chivalrous (putting aside what some are calling misogyny, which was really just the way it was then, good or bad). Sure the exterior courtesy hid a lot of crudeness and also the need to remain stoic at all times wasn’t altogether healthy. But contrasted with today’s ultra-casualness and too-much-public-information, it sometimes feels like a better place. Men were men, women were women.

Revolutionary Road, written in the early sixties, so was of that time. While there’s an element of disdain for the ’50s, for the smothering of individuals by enslaving them to social dictates, it isn’t looking back from too far off. Making a current film of an age gone by with the actors they chose meant performances that merely mocked the times rather than portrayed them. It was painful to watch. The beauty, the absolute treasure of Yates’ writing is how he expertly portrays the wide divide between how we imagine a conversation playing out and how it actually does. His detail of character and place is unparalleled. All the yelling Winslet and DiCaprio do, combined with the lengthy camera shots portraying pained looks, really doesn’t translate. If made at all, the film should have gone for actors with wider ranges. vintage-yates

I will definitely be re-reading the book in an effort to rid my mind of the Titanic couple (incidentally, I might be the only person on earth who hasn’t seen that film!). For now though, I’ve moved on to Yates’ excellent short stories. Now I know I’m hardly the first to discover the mastery of Richard Yates. My only question is, why did it take me so long!?

*(I found these vintage book covers on various sites around the Internet. Since Revolutionary Road is a book that I want to occupy a forever-place on my bookshelf, I might have to dig to find an earlier cover and pass my current film cover on to a willing recipient!)

One Response to “Yates’ Revolutionary Road”

  1. You might enjoy my account of friendship with Yates in my memoir SAFE SUICIDE (, where he actually advocates for family life. My own comments on the film are at….I also hope you add PLOUGHSHARES (free at to your list of literary magazines!

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