When first published in 1961, Richard Yates's novel Revolutionary Road was hailed as a masterpiece of realistic fiction. Its portrayal of suburban discontent was a fresh concept at the time, and its themes are still applicable to those alienated by the pursuit of the American Dream.
The story focuses on Frank and April Wheeler, a young couple living with their two children in a Connecticut suburb in the mid-1950s. The characters struggle to feel fulfilled in their choices of relationship and career.
Frank has a well-paying office job with Knox Business Machines, but April missed an opportunity for a career in acting. As the book opens, April is performing in a local theater troupe's production of The Petrified Forest. On opening night, April’s performance is awful. The experience leaves them both feeling humiliated and leads to one of the many unresolved fights the couple will have.
The Wheelers consider themselves to be above the ordinary people who populate the suburbs. After a variety of fights, empty nights of entertaining, and an affair on Frank's part, the Wheelers decide to move to France, to leave America and its consuming capitalism behind. April plans to work for NATO while Frank will take time to figure out what he wants to do. Their relationship suffers from jealousy and their goals for self-fulfillment are at risk, especially when April becomes pregnant with their third child. Their children also suffer from trying to please their parents and to understand them.
Reviewers point out Yates’s way of hypnotizing readers with the boredom of the Wheelers' lives. He masterfully captures the tone and drama of key moments, such as when April and Frank are humiliated by the theater efforts, or when they try to help their friend's sick son.
The novel was made into a film by Sam Mendes in 2008 starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.