“Revolutionary Road,” based on Richard Yates’s 1961 novel of the same name, is the latest entry in a long stream of art that portrays the American suburbs as the physical correlative to spiritual and mental death.
The reflexive reverence for “Revolutionary Road” is a testament to the degree to which antisuburban sentiment is one of the most unexamined attitudes in American culture. For what might a neighborhood that had been designed to accommodate a tragedy possibly look like? For a man running down the street in desperate grief to fit right into the landscape, he would have to be hurtling through a place where vampiric towers blocked out the sun and corpses hung from the lampposts.
Yates’s rage against the suburbs had all the subtlety of adolescent rage against authority (this indiscriminate anger might account for the novel’s fatal deficiency: Frank and April’s total lack of talent or substance makes their ultimately thwarted attempt to leave the suburbs for Paris less the stuff of tragedy than irritating farce). Yet “Revolutionary Road” — the name fatuously meant to imply that America’s revolutionary promise withers and dies in the suburbs — caught the reflexive attitudes of many readers. Postwar writers and intellectuals overlooked the book’s flagrant shortcomings, lit up from within by their shared opposition to a single place. X might be a Stalinist, and Y a fellow traveler and Z a closet Republican, but they could all agree on one thing — they’d rather perish in a nuclear holocaust than move to Westchester!
If you’re freaky, the well-adjusted is anathema to you.