Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary RoadRevolutionary Road by Richard Yates
1961, 463 pages

I've let this go too long before reviewing it and can't come up with a good summary, so I'm going to cheat this time and use the blurb from the back of the book:
In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and april Wheeler seem to be a model couple:  bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank's job is dull. And April never did see herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is about to crumble. 
I decided I wanted to read something by Richard Yates after Rachel at Book Snob reviewed several of his books earlier this year. I picked Revolutionary Road because I've seen the movie, and I like reading the books movies are based on. When my copy arrived via bookmooch I was a little daunted, both because Yates' books are supposed to be pretty heavy and because my copy is pretty thick.

Once I picked the book up, it proved to be a really quick read because of Yates' great writing, the strong characterization, and the compelling plot. The writing drew me in and I was completely engrossed, despite the fact that I knew where the story was going from seeing the movie. I don't know if this makes any sense, but the writing sort of reminded me of John Steinbeck (one of my favorite authors) -- the way Yates intersperses descriptions of aspects of the time, the tone of the book, and the way he handles his subject matter. Here's an example of what I mean:
How small and neat and comically serious the other men looked, with their gray-flecked crew cuts and their button-down collars and their brisk little hurrying feet! There were endless desperate swarms of them, hurrying through the station and the streets, and an hour from now they would all be still. The waiting midtown office buildings would swallow them up and contain them, so that to stand in one tower looking across the canyon to another would be to inspect a great silent insectarium displaying hundreds of tiny pink men in white shirts, forever shifting papers and frowning into telephones, acting out their passionate little dumb show under the supreme indifference of the rolling spring clouds. (p164)
I really liked Yates' writing style. I enjoyed his descriptions, as I mentioned above, but also the tone and the characters felt very realistic. Yates really shows how the characters operate as the reader observes the disintegration of Frank and April's marriage. Although at times the characters are portrayed ironically, at the same time there were aspects that were sympathetic. Here's one excerpt that I really identified with:
I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere, [...] people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic superpeople, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I'd suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I'd been meant to be one of them all along, and everything in the meantime had been a mistake; and they'd know it too. I'd be like the ugly duckling among the swans. (p353)
The subject matter, obviously, is not exactly cheerful. The book follows Frank and April as they plan to move to Paris, where April will work in order to give Frank a chance to find what he was really meant to do, and as these plans fall apart. Yates really takes us into the minds of the characters - how Frank and April hold themselves above their surroundings, how their neighbors react to their unconventional plan to move to Paris, etc. Here's an example from Frank's point of view that really shows the attitude of Frank and April at the beginning of the book:
It simply wasn't worth feeling bad about. Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were. (p27)
I feel like I'm not really doing this book justice. It is by no means a light read, but it is wonderfully written and compelling. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a great work of literary fiction to read, and definitely plan on picking up something else by Yates soon (or as soon as my TBR pile slims down a bit...).
[...] if you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone. (p426)

Monday, May 3, 2010

April Wrap Up

Ack, April was definitely a tough month for me - I only managed to read 4 books! Still, I'm really happy that I managed to finish Searching for Pemberley and Revolutionary Road, both of which were long-ish but really satisfying reads.

In other news, due to moving apartments over the weekend and an overdue vacation planned for this coming weekend, not much reading/blogging has been getting done lately, so posts might be sparse over the next week or so (especially since I've made the executive decision to take a complete vacation and leave the laptop at home). On the bright side, two five-hour airplane rides = lots of reading time!

Books read in April:

1. Mrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn
2. Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen
3. The Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson
4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (review coming soon)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In My Mailbox (5.2.10)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. Head over there to see what everyone else received this week!

Whiter Than SnowI received Whiter than Snow by Sandra Dallas this week for review. Here's a summary from Goodreads:

From The New York Times bestselling author of Prayers for Sale comes the moving and powerful story of a small town after a devastating avalanche, and the life changing effects it has on the people who live there.

Whiter Than Snow opens in 1920, on a spring afternoon in Swandyke, a small town near Colorado’s Tenmile Range. Just moments after four o’clock, a large split of snow separates from Jubilee Mountain high above the tiny hamlet and hurtles down the rocky slope, enveloping everything in its path including nine young children who are walking home from school. But only four children survive. Whiter Than Snow takes you into the lives of each of these families: There’s Lucy and Dolly Patch—two sisters, long estranged by a shocking betrayal. Joe Cobb, Swandyke’s only black resident, whose love for his daughter Jane forces him to flee Alabama. There’s Grace Foote, who hides secrets and scandal that belies her genteel fa├žade. And Minder Evans, a civil war veteran who considers his cowardice his greatest sin. Finally, there’s Essie Snowball, born Esther Schnable to conservative Jewish parents, but who now works as a prostitute and hides her child’s parentage from all the world.

Ultimately, each story serves as an allegory to the greater theme of the novel by echoing that fate, chance, and perhaps even divine providence, are all woven into the fabric of everyday life. And it’s through each character’s defining moment in his or her past that the reader understands how each child has become its parent’s purpose for living. In the end, it’s a novel of forgiveness, redemption, survival, faith and family.

That's it for me this week!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson

Guest HouseThe Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson
2010, 216 pages

After witnessing a car accident in which a biker is killed, Melba quits her job as a real estate agent and stops driving, relying on public transportation to get her where she needs to go. Melba befriends JoLee, who is trying to get a divorce from her husband Gene, who has absconded to Idaho with their son, Matt. Melba rents a room in her house to JoLee, and when Matt comes to visit for Thanksgiving, Melba quickly becomes the most stable adult in his life.

I liked the pace of this book - the plot moved along quickly and kept me interested. I also thought most of the characters were well developed - Melba, Matt, even JoLee and especially Gene. Some of the secondary characters weren't as well developed - I never managed to distinguish Melba's neighbors from each other - but the author really took me into the minds of the main characters, which was the highlight of the book for me.

It took me a little while to get into this book - I feel like I was bombarded with too many characters at first, and I never quite connected with Melba. Once I got into the book it was a quick read, but I still feel like I didn't connect with it on the level that I should have. I appreciated reading the voices of the different characters, but in the end this is a light read that didn't quite hit home.
Melba took the last batch of oatmeal cookies from the oven. She grated cheese, looked out the window and lost herself in the open, unrealized yard. She wondered why she'd ever traveled. When you held still and stopped traipsing around the world, the world came to you. She had tired of splendid sights, rich foods and customs that had nothing to do with her. Even movies, good movies, failed the test. Life was so good she couldn't make time for substitutions. Blind in the way we all are blind, Melba wondered how anyone else ever did. (p130)
I received a copy of this book for review from the author's publicist.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (4.27.10)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Glorious (Johnny Temple)This week's teaser comes from Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden. I'm only a few chapters in and already it is a very intense read, and I'm looking forward to getting more into it. Here's the teaser:

Was she still writing?  She was writing to keep a grip on life, the evidence of which was right there on the skin of her index and middle fingers--dark indentations she from the pencils she used. (p101)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Ranch WifePioneer Woman Cooks:  Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond
2009, 247 pages

This is a cookbook put together by the author of the popular Pioneer Woman blog, Ree Drummond. I was really eager to pick this up after I discovered Ree's blog. I've (successfully!) made a couple of recipes that I found on her blog, so I was excited to see what I'd find in a full cookbook of recipes.

I enjoyed reading through the cookbook - the recipes are interspersed with stories of Ree's life in on a ranch in Oklahoma with her husband and kids. The thing I love about Ree's recipes (both on her blog and in her cookbook), is that she takes pictures of every step in the process, so it's easy to tell whether or not you're on the right track (useful to a beginning cook like me).

In Ree's words, here are the types of recipes you can find in this cookbook:
All of the dishes in this book are very easy to prepare, and use widely available, simple ingredients. The dishes are not fancy, and they're certainly not low-cal. But they're always flavorful, hearty, and crowd pleasing. (p5)
I tried a couple of recipes from the cookbook -- the braised beef brisket was probably the most ambitious one that I chose, but I also tried to make the burgundy mushrooms (and failed when I halved the recipe but failed to lower the cooking time... doh!), and I successfully made the basic breakfast potatoes. The brisket and potatoes were good, but overall the recipes in this book were a little too time-intensive and meat centered than I usually cook. What I'm looking for in recipes these days is easy and quick to prepare, and healthy/light, and this cookbook isn't really geared towards that. Regardless, I'm glad I gave it a chance, since I am a fan of Ree's blog, but I can't really comment on the quality of the recipes since it's not really my style of cooking.

Sidenote -- apparently there's also talk of making a Pioneer Woman movie based on Ree's story. Woah!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In My Mailbox (4.25.10)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. Head over there to see what everyone else received this week!

These books actually came to me over the last couple of weeks, but since I haven't done an In My Mailbox post in a while, I thought I'd post about them now. I received two books in the mail, and I'm really excited about both of them!

Fireworks over ToccoaI received a copy of Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff from the publisher. I've been wanting to read this one, since I've seem some great reviews of it. Here's a summary, from Goodreads:
Lily was married for just days before her husband was sent abroad to fight in WWII. Now, he and the other soldiers are returning, and the small town of Toccoa, Georgia plans a big celebration. But a handsome and kind Italian immigrant, responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned captures Lily's heart and soul. Torn between duty to society and her husband, and a poor, passionate man who might be her only true love--Lily must choose between a love she never knew and a commitment she'd already made.
The PostmistressThe second book I received is The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, which I won from a giveaway hosted by Stacy at A Novel Source. I've been wanting to read this one ever since I first heard what it's about, so I'm so glad to have won a copy. Thanks Stacy! Here's the summary from Goodreads:
Filled with stunning parallels to today's world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter. In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.

The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them- but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen. The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during wartime, when those we cherish leave. And how every story-of love or war-is about looking left when we should have been looking right.