a suburban tragedy

I might have mentioned before that I don’t believe in spoilers. As a matter of fact I sometimes read the last pages of a novel first just to see what to expect. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to read detective novels, I simply don’t care who did it, I’m more interested in the criminal’s every day life, how they like their coffee and what they think about in a crowded bus (well, this part isn’t very hard to imagine). After watching Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road twice, I decided to give the book a try too. There’s nothing more thrilling for me than a psychological suicidal drama; the more depressing and hopeless and with a more predictable ending, the better. I guess it’s a cathartic thing, like the effects of a Greek tragedy. You watch somebody suffer, identify with them, with their terrible trials and tribulations and somehow get purified in the process and can get back to your own (possibly troubled) life with a clearer head and a slightly braver heart.

At first glance the ancient Greek hero’s tragedy seems a great deal more purposeful and dignified, it’s all in the name of an ideal, a tradition or duty, or it’s a punishment for hubris. A housewife depressed in her spotless suburban home seems far removed from any such thing. Still, hers is also a tragedy of hubris, it is the tragedy of the modern man that tries to live up to his or her own illusions of what life is supposed to be like and never giving up on the dream that life holds extraordinary promises. April, one of the main characters, is the tragic heroine of this novel, who wants to live up to the dreams of her youth and cannot conform to a numb suburban life, but, like Jay Gatsby before her, she is chasing an illusion and dies a ridiculously unheroic (to say the least) death, doing that. Not incidentally she bears the name of what T.S. Eliot called “the cruelest month”. She is beautiful and smells like fresh lemons and, like the month she is named after, she both represents and reminds all the other characters of their youthful aspirations, of the promises of life that remained unfulfilled as they all settled for the comfort of routine and the ordinary. Her presence both stirs them back to life at times, for brief interludes, and painfully reveals to them their failure, mediocrity and weakness. Like any tragic figure she has to die consumed by her own impossible dream, letting the rest of the characters continue on with life as we all know it. Her death is both painful and a relief to them. There’s a beautiful scene after her death when their family friend (with whom April has had a brief affair) looks at his wife who wears a torn bathrobe, has tangled hair and smells like cooking and, comparing her to the beautiful April, he is no longer struck by her ordinariness in a negative way, but sees it as a metaphor for the life that goes on and is thankful for what he has previously perceived as something negative.

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about this drama; I guess the irony of post-modernity has made us less sensitive to the modernist tragedy of mediocrity and it’s harder to take it so seriously. There’s almost a vintage allure to the image of the suicidal housewife; they don’t make housewives like that anymore…

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3 Comments

  1. I just discovered your blog and this post made me put the adress in bookmarks. I have the same “reading the last page first” habit and I’m quite proud of it. I like the books you read and how you write about them.

    Reply

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