Counter-Revolutionary Road

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An economy + link by Josh Bearman

There is much to say about Revolutionary Road. I’m talking about the film, which I can’t stop thinking about. There is also much to say about the book, judging from all those who have used the film as a opportunity to revisit the Yates’ novel. Very welcome, as is this interesting story from the New York Times about Phyllis McGinley, a onetime famous poet who is mostly forgotten because she, unlike her literary and intellectual contemporaries, found inspiration in the muted eggshell colors of suburban Westchester. McGinley, coincidentally, is a friend of mine’s grandmother. She was also on the cover of Time, and, ironically, won the Pulitzer for poetry the same year that Revolutionary Road appeared. She was later targeted by Betty Friedan and followers as a “housewife writer” because she was one of those women who thought that education and housework were not mutually exclusive, a belief she summarized by writing:

“Surely the ability to enjoy Heine’s exquisite melancholy in the original German, will not cripple a girl’s talent for making chocolate brownies.”

As it happens, I’ve read Heine in German and recently made a delicious apple pie with a kitty kat face!

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Where does that leave me and my Male Mystique? In the arms of a good woman, that’s where.

Which reminds me: what I realized while watching Revolutionary Road is that the entire literature of suburban dissatisfaction, or horror, in the case of the Stepford Wives, is built on the idea that something terrible lurks below the happy surface of it all. But the emptiness and dread is really a vast disappointment. Postwar America was the first time in human history that people were told that they could be happy in a few  easy steps. Driven by economics and marketing, the suburban push made us a promise, one that couldn’t be delivered, thus igniting fifty years of broken hearts. If they never told us things could be perfect, the fall wouldn’t have been so hard. The something terrible that always lurks below the manicured surface is just human reality. There is always unhappiness, tragedy, shakespearean drama — even in the suburbs. Which somewhat belies the thrust of Revolutionary Road and its literary kin: if there’s one we learn from the Wheelers it’s that people do feel things in Connecticut.

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See Also: A Review of Waltz With Bashir


Joshuah Bearman has written about CIA missions, jewel thieves, deranged private investigators, aspiring Fabios, bitter rivalry among dueling Santa Clauses, and the metaphysical implications of being the world's greatest Pac Man player. His article for Wired became the movie Argo. More from this author →