I recently reconnected with a good friend of days gone by, and we started chatting books, which led to shipping books to each other, and he sent this one along as one of his favorites. I had a vague memory of the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, never having seen it, just aware of its existence, but wasn’t familiar with the story in the least. I had my friends stellar recommendation to go on and was confident I would like it, but did not anticipate just how much.
I. Love. This. Book. Loooooooove. It is impeccable writing and storytelling. From page one, you see Frank and April leading unhappy and unfulfilling lives. In the same breath they both scoff and grasp at the American suburban dream of the 1950s. They are infuriating unrelenting characters, victims and victimized by their own choices, and utterly fascinating to watch. As I recently moved to a suburban area, I found the subject matter riveting, though luckily I am happy with my choices, rather than a prisoner of them.
Every character in this book, with the exception of maybe Frank and April’s children, is a flawed and complicated character. This novel is almost a suburban “American Psycho,” for its commentary and snapshot of a certain subset of americana. It seems that the American dream is at the forefront of everyone’s actions, that is, how they are perceived, and perception is everything.
Yates is an incredible writer. I have to share two passages in particular that I found particularly well done.
The first is from a character who has her own share of problems, but seems to be positive to the point of unrealistic, someone who tries to turn hope into reality.
“They had grown so used to the bright, chirping sound of Mrs. Givings’s voice that day that her next words came as a shock, addressed to the picture window and spoken in such a wretchedly tight, moist whimper: “Oh John, please stop.”
The other part is from Frank, our main character, who is a narcissist and manipulator of the highest order, who is the sort of person who ironically is doing the thing everyone else is doing, except, maybe he stops being ironic about it.
“There was, he assured himself for the hundredth time, nothing to be apologetic about. It depressed him to consider how much energy he had wasted, over the years, in the self-denying posture of apology. From now on, whatever else his life might hold, there would be no more apologies.”
I mean, give me a break. No apologies? That’s like in “Love Story” the line about “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Um, false. But, Frank, like most of the characters in the story, is creating a reality in which he is the hero, and faultless for the things that happen around him, though he most deeefinitely is a creature creating his own demise.
It is weird to say, because this is not a happy book, but it can leave you feeling pretty good by schadenfraude (German word, meaning to take pleasure in the misfortune of others) as you it least will be happy you are none of the characters. It is bleak, stark, well-written, and very very good, and I will recommend it from the roof tops.