Before DiCaprio and Winslet made it a blockbuster movie, this was just a portrait of the apparently happy and affluent 50’s in suburban America.
Richard Yates’ story is in fact a demolition job on that pretended happiness. The central characters, Frank and April Wheeler, seem to have unlimited opportunities and the necessary ambition to grab them. They are young and reasonably talented, but they want to reach beyond the materialistic comfort of their middle class life. They are the subject of envy by their neighbours and friends, and they feel a kind of superiority.
Frank dreams of moving to Paris and becoming a writer. April takes her husband’s dream and makes it hers, passionately. And there Yates starts his ruthless destruction of this middle class couple.
Frank drifts slowly into a rather mediocre man, whose ambitions are more prosaic than he would admit. Work and sex fulfill his life to the extent that he is scared by the prospect of leaving them behind for the uncertain future abroad. At the same time April realises that she is willing to give up things that her husband cannot.
Yates fills his story with disappointment and betrayal, with a relentless sadness that slowly corrupts the lives of Frank and April. It is quite clear that he is no fan of the America of those days, the booming days of consumerism and Cold War certainties. And the portrait that he finally draws is one of emptiness and forgotten dreams.
It is a beautifully written novel which captures a moment in history and turns it into a story with which everyone can identify.