Oh, the hopeless emptiness of it all. I read this entry on #THE LIST with a combination of sympathy and horror. The characters, Frank and April Wheeler, are not likeable at all. Their actions, on a daily basis, are not those that modern sensiblity condone. But they are sympathetic and real, almost as if you could feel their rages, tears, joys, and self-destruction. The setting is 1955 Connecticut, during a time light years away from our present consciousness. It was a time when living in the suburbs was not common practice but, rather, a cop-out for those who were employed in the “big city” and needed space for a family. It was a time when premarital sex and early pregnancy required marriage and legal, safe abortions were not available. People smoked and drank through everything, due to common practice. Television was new. Birth control was iffy. And dreams are deferred or abandoned. I think I would smoke and drink, too.
This is my mother’s time – a time I don’t really understand well. April’s tale is the tale of countless women, trapped in a marriage that could have gone one way, but went another. She has ambition and dreams but no way to express herself. She is not her own person – rather, she has a vision of her ideal self that is so far removed from reality that her husband declares she needs psychotherapy. Well, so does everyone else. In the end, Frank and April tread down the path of being ordinary people reluctantly. Frank comes to accept John Giving’s mad declaration that the “hopeless emptiness” of life becomes somewhat comfortable, when one abandons his original dreams and delusions. Frank is willing to settle. Life has something to offer him. April, on the other hand, is dragged reluctantly into mediocrity, kicking and screaming bitterly all the way. She refuses to submit and comes to a bittersweet awakening that can only lead to disaster.
Frank and April start out as young, bohemian idealists, fancying themselves intellectual and superior to others who have fled to the suburbs. Where they end up, and how they get there, is horrifyingly close to the reality of every married couple. They travel a road we could all travel. While we, in our forward social progress, have easy access to therapy, divorce, and other options, Frank and April have none. How they deal with their conflict is as dictated by society as it is their own personalities. The idea of leading an authentic life is a luxury denied to both of them. The settling into the roles they are destined to play culminates in a Tolstoyan ending that should shock the reader. Sadly, this ending is as inevitable as the tide.
There is sadness and much to be learned here. The simple, strong writing style drives home the total picture of a relentless societal norm that must either be obeyed or abandoned. Which choice would I make, faced with the hopeless emptiness? I tread carefully now. I could be trudging down Revolutionary Road without knowing it.