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revolutionary road

The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy. Even at night, as if on purpose, the development held no looming shadows and no gaunt silhouettes. It was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses...

Richard Yates' 1961 novel 'Revolutionary Road' is a rediscovered classic that easily beats, say, Updike's 'Couples' on the subject of American suburbia. A ruthlessly funny and ultimately tragic story of great dreams lost in self-delusion, it is reminiscent of 'The Great Gatsby' or even 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf'.

John and April Wheeler are a talented young couple (what today would be thirty-somethings) settling down in suburbia while insisting they can remain aloof from mediocrity. To escape the boredom of housewife and office life, they develop a vague, idealistic plan to move to Paris "for good", and spend endless evenings talking about it.

"You know what this is like, April? Talking like this? The whole idea of taking off to Europe this way? (...) It's like coming out of a Cellophane bag. It's like having been encased in some kind of Cellophane for years whithout knowing it, and suddenly breaking out."

Their destination is Paris because he has been there before and knows the language. The plan is for her to take a job while he will "find himself".

"You'll be doing what you should've been allowed to do seven years ago. You'll be finding yourself. You'll be reading and studying and taking long walks and thinking. You'll have time. For the first time in your life you'll have time to find out what it is you want to do, and when you find it you'll have the time to start doing it."

And that, he knew as he chuckled and shook his head, was what he'd been afraid she would say. He had a quick disquieting vision of her coming home from a day at the office -- wearing a Parisian tailored suit, briskly pulling off her gloves -- coming home and finding him hunched in an egg-stained bathrobe, on an unmade bed, picking his nose.

In reality, he doesn't speak French at all and his knowledge of Paris is based mostly on reading 'The Sun Also Rises' in high school. They know they are deluding themselves, but once they've announced their plans to the neighbors, they can't stop.

Soon the plan turns sour, and with it their whole marriage, which rapidly deteriorates into vicious tragedy. In the end the only idealism left is in the name of their street...

See also this series of Guardian articles.

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the lost weekend

How do all Billy Wilder 's films manage to stay so fresh and sharp? The Apartment , Some Like It Hot , Sunset Boulevard ... -- they just don't seem to age or lose any of their power. And now The Lost Weekend , from 1945 (!), which… Read the full post »

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