Sunday, January 4, 2009

Revolutionary Road Apples

Critics describe Richard Yates as a writer’s writer. No author ever wants to read those words in his or her own obit. That sobriquet is literary code for a tremendous talent dying ignored, unloved, and broke -- capillaries filled with more smoke and drink than could have been found at an unlimited martini lunch at Sardi’s during the 1950s. Authors fitting that description no longer have even their finest novels in print, making them believe in their last moments that their lives were filled with nothing more than well-diagrammed sentences.

Literary snobs scour the arcane articles of The New York Review of Books like archeologists in search of the ruins of Troy, searching for gems lost the day after their publication. Prizes of extra tea and scones at their literary salons are offered to the most "lostest" book found. Without The Review, literary snobs would spend their salon time grousing about spouses, tablecloth designs, and the Johnny Come Lately works offered up by television hosts.

Literary nabobs abhor Hollywood movies and Oprah tie-ins. Hollywood rarely gets a classic novel's nuances correct. Reprint editions have the movie stars on the cover rather than the original old cars or depression era farmers looking glummer than dirt. Reprints cheapen the dog-eared copies with wine-stained pages and bindings choked with ancient flecks of Crème Pâtissière owned by the literati. I am a literary snob; my books are wine-soaked and dessert-clogged. I'm not proud that my original editions can pass neither a breathalyzer test nor a heart stress exam.

I first stumbled down one of the latest of Hollywood's adaptations, Yates's Revolutionary Road, while attending a modern lit class at the University of Wisconsin. I still remember the reading list for that class. Along with Revolutionary Road, we were required to sift through John Barth’s Floating Opera, William Burroughs's Grove Press edition of Naked Lunch, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49. I felt really smart back then.

One beautiful spring afternoon, I threw Revolutionary Road at someone who was dressed as a policeman. It was during a demonstration against some third world slight, long since forgotten but, no doubt still quite important. Surprisingly, education at Wisconsin continued in between the tear gassing, the advances of the proletariat, the bad football seasons, and everyone’s favorite dance steps: jogging up and down Bascom Hill with the National Guard. Running from the bulls was a regular nationwide campus activity in the late 1960s, a slight variation of Pamplona's Running of the Bulls. Later that night, I went back to the scene of the misunderstanding and retrieved the novel, lying frontispiece wide open where I had written my name, home address, and telephone number, all necessary information for some to locate me should the text ever be left behind somewhere.

I would never have aced the class had I not had a girlfriend at the time reading the assignments and taking the exams for me. I have no idea what she saw in me, but I've lost it since then. At June graduation, she did give me all my books back and a cold Arctic blast to go with them. That's why I still have my copy of Revolutionary Road, though her extreme temperatures did cause some foxing around the edges.

I primarily go to films where the final act resolves itself through guns, knives, fists, and an occasional meteorite. But since Revolutionary Road is one of my favorite partially-read novels, I was curious to see what director Sam Mendes, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Sam's wife, Kate Winslet, would do with it after so many years of frustrating development.

I have been looking forward to the re-coupling of Jack and Rose ever since Jack went down with the Titanic, but was not surprised that it took so long for the two actors to make a second appearance together. It is possible to look at the movie Revolutionary Road as an unintended sequel of sorts, an extended time line of what might have happened to those iceberg lovebirds had Captain Smith kept awake during the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Add a generation or so to their ages, change the characters names from Jack and Rose to Frank and April Wheeler, and you end up with a perverse example of whom not to settle down with in 1950's Connecticut.


Apparently Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet cannot appear together in a movie without one of them dying a gruesome death. Halfway through the screening, I began to wonder what their next screen pairing might be. He freezes to death in Titanic; she bleeds to death here. So, logically, their next roles would have them both dying horrible, prolonged deaths, perhaps as two Protestant lovers caught up in Paris during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre with James McAvoy playing Henry of Navarre, Keira Knightly as Marguerite de Valois, the ever versatile Meryl Streep as the vile Catherine de’Medici and Steve Coogan as the court jester, Yankel. By the time I thought of other casting possibilities (Vincent Cassel as the doomed Gaspard de Coligny), the movie was long over and I was being hassled to leave by the cleaning crew.

Once both of these fine actors find a suitable property that kills them off as the end credits role, I would hope to see them in an R-rated Judd Apatow sex farce, possibly a remake of Steamboat Round the Bend.

Leo as Will Rogers

Kate Winslet as Swamp Girl


  1. I think you are great to read and I have linked to you. I cam across you though google links.

    jean, a writer(--but primarily a jewelry design author), and amazon top 1000 reviewer, and all around uncategorizable person. Well. I kind of strive for that. I am left handed, anyway. That's a start.
    Nice to meet you.

    PS: Happily married with 5 kids and two grandkids here, just so you don't get all freaked out!

  2. excuse the typo. how embarassing. doh!