An Essay On American Beauty

An Essay On American Beauty-25
And this is especially true among writers, who have kept its reputation burnished by praising it, teaching it, sometimes unwittingly emulating its apparent effortlessness, its complete accessibility, its luminous particularity, its deep seriousness toward us human beings -- about whom it conjures shocking insights and appraisals.We marvel at its consummate writerliness, its almost simple durability as a purely made thing of words that defeats all attempts at classification.In every way but the stated, he fears the change that April's Paris plans will bring. Frank and April fall into arguments, endure loud, unwanted divulgences, suffer accusations and retractions, slaps to the face, fleeings, returnings, outrages, until their moving plans are abandoned, and with that decision the Wheelers' anchorage to some good life they'd chosen gradually, then swiftly, then suddenly, violently, tragically disappears.

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Yet Yates depicts him sarcastically as a compromised, self-important ''suit'' with ''the kind of unemphatic good looks that an advertising photographer might use to portray the discerning consumer of well-made but inexpensive merchandise.'' In the novel's close notice Frank is a deluded, dissipated bore who imagines himself ''as an intense, nicotine-stained Jean-Paul-Sartre sort of man,'' but is merely an adulterer spicing his talk with literary references while following work so stultifying and meaningless that he even laughs at himself.

April Wheeler is also a youthful 29, though unappreciated by her husband, who sees her as a ''graceless, suffering creature whose existence he tried every day of his life to deny.'' Yates imagines April slightly more charitably -- as a slightly dazed, slightly spoiled, actress wannabe possessing no particular good will for her spouse, who still struggles to set a go-nowhere life onto new rails that will lead her family (or more particularly lead her) to Paris and a main chance at freedom. I'm afraid it wouldn't help, because you see I don't know who I am, either.'' No one (except perhaps the children) really comes out looking very good in '' Revolutionary Road.'' Even Yates's supporting cast of neighbors, venal business types, blustery bosses, nosy realtors and nut-house residents all seem deluded and discredited, each in her or his own way, disabled as doers of right, or incapable of the sort of affiliations that could weave a fabric of communal spirit strong enough to hold the weak should they falter, or console the despairing when they sound a plea.

They can't, in fact, admit it fast or often enough. '' It's just that I don't know who you are. Grube; even the reeling Wheelers themselves, spinning out of kilter and down the road to disaster.

All are walking paths laid out by forces and authorities other than their own personal senses of right and wrong: Convention. Plus all the archly amplified description that eventually brings everyone into the flattening light of derision and satire, as with the pathetic Mr. Givings, on the day they visit their son in the ''home'' where he's ''resting'' up for the travail that will be the poor rest of his life:'' In the outer waiting room of Ward Two A, after they had pressed the bell marked ring for attendant, Mr. Givings shyly joined a group of other visitors who were inspecting an exhibition of patients' artwork.

As '' Revolutionary Road'' approaches its 40th year in print, it seems odd to imagine readers opening it for the first time.

So primary and forceful have been this novel's appeal and effects upon two generations of us that to not already know Richard Yates's great book seems incongruous, and handing it over cold feels clumsy, a bit like introducing a sage old friend to a precocious new friend: we almost would rather not, for all the crucial things that cannot be thought and said again.

Even at night, as if on purpose, the development held no looming shadows and no gaunt silhouettes. Except for the whisk of his shoes on the asphalt and the rush of his own breath, it was so quiet that he could hear the sounds of television in the dozing rooms behind the leaves -- a blurred comedian's shout followed by dim, spastic waves of laughter and applause, and then the striking-up of a band.'' In 1961, '' Revolutionary Road'' must have seemed an especially corrosive indictment of the postwar suburban ''solution,'' and of the hopeful souls who followed its call out of the city in search of some acceptable balance between rough rural essentials and urban opportunity and buzz.

It was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves. Frank Wheeler, the novel's principal character, is 29, already a combat veteran and a Columbia graduate and outwardly a man on the way up.

'' He could be grateful in a sense that he had no particular area of interest,'' the narrator notes, airily sizing up Frank's life: '' In avoiding specific goals he had avoided specific limitations.

For the time being the world, life itself, could be his chosen field.'' In Broyard's creaky terms, '' Revolutionary Road'' seems to want it both ways -- the ''entomological'' and the metaphysical; the literal and the symbolic.


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