I belong to a book club, consisting of a diverse group of women with an addiction to books. Its purpose is not to discuss books (although we do), but to supply ample reading material in English. Steimatzky has a monopoly on book sales in Israel, making new paperbacks prohibitively expensive.
Each month we meet at a member’s house and choose books. We each come home with at least five and often more. At the end of the evening we collect the books that we no longer want, to trade in at the used English book store. We also collect money to buy books for the next month, although lately we’ve been ordering two or three months worth from Amazon whenever we find someone to bring us books from the US.
The book I’m reading now, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, must have come from the used book store. Apparently it’s famous, although I had never heard of it. First published in 1961, it tells the story of a young 1950s couple who grow weary of life in the suburbs. Each feels that s/he was meant for better things. The book excels at describing the inner life of the main characters and their motivations, often from several different perspectives. The author concludes (in my opinion) that the couple suffered from an inability to connect emotionally with others. There is a discussion of psychoanalysis and Freudian theories and perhaps a closer reading would help me tell whether the author was promoting these theories or criticizing them–I’m not sure.
Usually I don’t enjoy reading about dysfunctional families. When they start digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole I want to cry out and tell them to stop. My 12yo daughter was next to me when I put down the book and announced that I didn’t want to read the last chapter. The ending was obvious, and it wouldn’t be pretty. She asked why if the book was as well-written as I had told her, wouldn’t the ending be enjoyable? I explained that a good author can write in a way that brings out all kinds of unpleasant feelings in the reader.
The too-long introduction to the 2000 edition, by Richard Ford, mentions that Yates fails to portray any of the main characters in a positive light, except for the children. I actually found myself somewhat sympathetic to the husband, despite his wife-beating and adultery. Both he and his wife try to save the marriage, but his way (despite his bungling) is more credible. As for the children, I’m hard pressed to actually call them characters as they speak only a few sentences in the entire book. Virtually every scene finds them asleep in bed or back at home with the babysitters. There is lots of discussion about their welfare, which the author wants their parents to take into account, but this discussion lacks the authenticity of other sections.
The book did end sadly, as predicted, but I still enjoyed the depressing ending. All in all Yates presents a sad picture of empty modern life that continues to resonate almost fifty years later.