Revolutionary Road

I have two rules for reading. Rule #1: Read the style/genre/period you are in the mood for. If you are on a kick, honor it. It will guide you. (This, in my opinion, is the only reason there are people out there who don’t like Jane Austen. They simply weren’t in the mood for her.) Rule #2: Push yourself, even if you’re not in the mood. There’s too much out there and precious little time.

I’m currently going with Rule #1 and bathing myself in short stories of the past few decades. Most recently: Raymond Carver. Lorrie Moore. Alice Munro. On deck: Mary Gaitskill. David Gates. A.M. Homes.

I took one break, to read Revolutionary Road, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the one book I can actually say anything about at the moment. (I guess the stories are still washing over me.)

But what a book. Sure, it slides toward melodrama now and again. But it’s good melodrama. In Frank and April Wheeler, Yates has given us a pair of ordinary people with extraordinary fantasies. The Wheelers’ tragic flaw is a perception of their own specialness in the midst of the ugly, unspecial suburbs. It is so easy to sympathize with this feeling of “we are better than this.” But Yates also maintains a remarkable ironic distance — to remind us how wild and impossible their dreaming is, how empty their rhetoric. They want to get outside of the fallen world, but they also strive to conquer it, to be recognized as the best by the people and institutions within it. Can’t have your cake and eat it, too, Yates says. That he can hold this view without condemning the Wheelers (without making us hate them) is a great accomplishment. Don’t we all want to escape to Paris and be among the “super-heroic people”? And aren’t we all doomed to just be ourselves?

So much has been written about this book, but in the case of an underappreciated “writer’s writer” like Yates, it seems you can’t really praise him enough.

That was my first post, but I’ll be back soon enough with some thoughts on those stories. Maybe even an answer to the question: “What’s a story?”

— Katherine Hill
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