It’s 1955 in suburban Connecticut. Frank Wheeler, a World War II veteran, commutes to his office job at Knox Business Machines while his wife, April, raises their two children. Their friends, Shep and Milly Campbell, are also their neighbors in the ironically named Revolutionary Hill Estates, where nothing revolutionary takes place. April has the lead in a local theater group’s production, but the play fails, symbolizing the suburbs’ failure to provide a rich, fulfilling lifestyle for its residents. It is this emptiness that Frank rails against during dinner parties with the Campbells. A greater failure, however, for Frank is his fear of leaving the comfortable (albeit boring) suburban life where he can drink his way through business lunches and sleep with a woman from the office stenographer’s pool. April has a few issues, too, brought about by a childhood marred by rejection and a suicidal parent.
The Wheelers’ other neighbors, the Givings, have a mentally ill adult son, John, who gets weekend passes from the local hospital to visit his parents. As a favor to the Givings, the Wheelers invite them all to their house periodically. In John, the author has an effective literary device who voices aloud brutally accurate observations about the true nature of the Wheelers’ lives. Frank barely tolerates John while saving his Freudian observations for April, who becomes increasingly desperate, lonely, and isolated.
Revolutionary Road was Yates first (and many believe his best) work. He is a clever and gifted writer, using his own background as a World War II veteran, parent, and publicity writer for the Remington Rand corporation to form the basis for the Frank Wheeler character. It is suburban malaise at its finest.