Three years ago, I read The Collected Short Stories Of Richard Yates. And I really liked it. And then I got a copy of Revolutionary Road–his novel about the slow decay of a suburban marriage. And I opened it, read the first two paragraphs, and said to myself, “Not yet.”
Ever since then, I’ve periodically harkened back to that book and opened it and read the first two paragraphs and said to myself, “Not yet.”
There’s a trick to reading books like Revolutionary Road. You think that you’re supposed to read them when want you be depressed. But that’s wrong. They’re not tragic or depressing books; they’re pathetic. And no one ever wants to be in a pathetic mood. I’m with Howard Roark: pity is a horrible emotion, and it’s one that’s best avoided.
That’s why I’ve been defeated in all my previous attempts to read a book. But I was recently reading a truly amazing book about suburban angst and despair, when I realized, “No! The time to read a book like this is when you’re in the middle of that mixed-up state that’s characterized mostly by boredom and a vague feeling that one should be doing something.”
Basically, the time to read a book like this is when you need to feel better about your life. In retrospect, that should be obvious. I mean, I have no idea who is meant to be the intended audience of Revolutionary Road, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not meant to be enjoyed by the vaguely artsy, vaguely repressed suburbanites that it’s attempting to portray. I think it’s meant to be read and enjoyed by people, like me, who can pat themselves on the back for avoiding that fate. As such, it’s kind of a mean-spirited book (although I haven’t finished it yet, so I’m not sure whether it breaks open into a kind of understanding). But, you know what? I’m fine with that. It’s beautifully written. I sympathize with and like the characters. But mostly I feel a profound sense of relief that my life will never be like theirs.