I read our next book group selection, Revolutionary Road (1961) by Richard Yates, in one sitting yesterday. I’d describe it as social commentary (of 1960s suburbia, marriage, work) and psychological drama, with a strong dose of girardian interpersonal dynamics. Some describe it as bleak, and I think I agree, but bleak with dark humour and crystalline insight about the dynamics of relationships (especially bad ones) and people’s own internal conversations and rehearsals.
Interesting that the book opens with a community theatre production rehearsal, which has gone well, followed by the actual performance, which is awful; that’s pretty much the theme of the rest of the book: no matter how well we justify, acquit, or defend ourselves in our own internal dialogues and monologues, no matter how well we rehearse our pithy, perfectly judged scripts and hear in our own minds the adulatory and sympathetic responses these scripts will of course elicit, actually being in conversation and in relationship with another person is nothing like that — because unlike internal discussion, real conversation and real conversational partners are out of our control!
Here are a few excerpts; the first reverts back to my current theme of feeling or believing we have to “prove” something:
Frank: “I didn’t want a baby any more than she did. Wasn’t it true, then, that everything in his life from that point on had been a succession of things he hadn’t really wanted to do? Taking a hopelessly dull job to prove he could be as responsible as any other family man, moving to an overpriced, genteel apartment to prove his mature belief in the fundamentals of orderliness and good health, having another child to prove that the first one hadn’t been a mistake, buying a house in the country because that was the next logical step and he had to prove himself capable of taking it. Proving, proving; and for no other reason than that he was married to a woman who had somehow managed to put him forever on the defensive, who loved him when he was nice, who lived according to what she happened to feel like doing and who might at any time — this was the hell of it — who might at any time day or night just happen to feel like leaving him. It was as ludicrous and simple as that.” p. 51
His wife April, speaking to Frank: “You were too good and young and scared; you played right along with it and that’s how the whole thing started. That’s how we both got committed to this enormous delusion — because that’s what it is, an enormous, obscene delusion — this idea that people have to resign from real life and ‘settle down’ when they have families. It’s the great sentimental lie of the suburbs, and I’ve been making you subscribe to it all this time. I’ve been making you live by it! … I wanted to have it both ways. It wasn’t enough that I’d spoiled your life; I wanted to bring the whole monstrous thing full-circle and make it seem that you’d spoiled mine, so I could end up being the victim. Isn’t that awful? But it’s true! It’s true!” p. 112
“Shep did what he always tried to do when a great many pieces of upsetting news hit him one after the other: he rolled with the punch. He took each fact as it came and let it slip painlessly into the back of his mind, thinking, Okay, okay, I’ll think about that one later; and that one; and that one; so that the alert, front part of his mind could remain free enough to keep him in command of the situation. That way, he was able to have the right expression constantly on his face and to say the right things.” p. 149