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"I much prefer the kind of story where the reader is left wondering who's to blame until it begins to dawn on him (the reader) that he himself must bear some of the responsibility because he is human and therefore infinitely fallible." -- Richard Yates
"Madame Bovary, c'est moi." -- Gustave Flaubert
A follow-up to my previous post on "Revolutionary Road":
I'm reading Blake Bailey's 2003 biography of Richard Yates, whose "Revolutionary Road" and "The Easter Parade" are among the novels I hold dearest. It's called "A Tragic Honesty," and I think Yates would hate the title. But maybe there are layers to it that I haven't yet discovered. I'm only up to 1959 and, despite a lifetime of alcoholism, emphysema, bipolar depression and a host of other physical and mental troubles, Yates survived until 1992. Perhaps the notion of "tragic honesty" is illustrated below, in Yates' sharp observations about the interplay between story and character in his own work and that of artists he admired. They're applicable to just about any narrative form:
"Another thing I have always liked about ["The Great Gatsby"] and ["Madame Bovary"]," he wrote, "is that there are no villains in either one. The force of evil is felt in these novels but never personified -- neither novel is willing to let us off that easily." [...]
"One thing I'm willing to bet [about a "Revolutionary Road" screenplay written in the 1970s] is that it made the Wheelers a lot more sympathetic than they ought to be. It was a common misconception when the book was first published, even among good critics. Quite simply, Yates meant for the Wheelers to seem a little better than mediocre: not, that is, stoical mavericks out of Hemingway, or glamorous romantics out of Fitzgerald. Rather, the Wheelers are everyday people -- you and me -- who pretend to be something they're not because life is lonely and dull and disappointing."
-- Richard Yates biographer Blake Bailey in Slate (June 26, 2007)
Plot and thematic spoilers ahead.
"How do you break free... without breaking apart"? That's the rhetorical question posed as a tag line in this trailer (above) for Sam Mendes' titanic version of Richard Yates' 1961 novel "Revolutionary Road," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
But is that what "Revolutionary Road" -- the movie or the book -- is about? Does it even scratch the surface? I wonder if this is being sold as a story about two extraordinary people who might have fulfilled their promise... if they hadn't been stifled by the suburban conformist pressures of America in the 1950s. If only they'd broken free and gone to Paris where people really feel things!