Thursday, December 2, 2010

Man vs. The Mundane

Sometimes I read two books back to back at random, not expecting to draw any particular parallels.  I was surprised and intrigued by the similar struggles that the protagonists in Yates' Revolutionary Road and Percy's The Moviegoer face.  Published within a year of each other (1961 and 1960 respectively), both works deal with what Yates calls the "hopeless emptiness of everything in this country" and what Percy calls being "sunk in the everydayness."  Both protagonists, men at the beginning of their careers, are successful and lead a prescribed life, yet both rage against this normalcy and ease and search for something more meaningful.

In Revolutionary Road, April and Frank Wheeler seem to be on the way to having it all - two kids, success, and a nice house.  April having tried her hand at acting, and Frank being an intellectual with big ideas when they first met, they give up their big ambitions and settle into day-to-day family life.  April comes up with the idea that the family up and move to Paris so that Frank can do some soul searching while she gets an embassy job.  The arguing is incessant, the characters unlikeable, and the end is utterly depressing, yet I truly loved this book - one of the top 5 best books I've read this year, because every sentence crafted by Yates is perfection in its vivid imagery and smart, impassioned dialogue.  Also, while this book takes place in the 1950s, substitute a "swell" and a "sore" for more current language and the novel would be just as relevant today as it was fifty years ago.  Don't be dissuaded by the movie - this is an amazing book.  Hard to put down.

In The Moveigoer, Binx Bolling is a successful stockbroker with a nice house in Gentilly, a suburb of New Orleans.  He lives a life of working, dating, and moviegoing.  He attempts to be "Gregory Peck-ish" so as to charm women who have, for example, "Sarah Lawrence solemnity."  While this book is considered a classic, I found the writing too flat, and it dragged toward the end.

Both book raise the question of how we can live a rich life - do we need to search beyond what we already have?  Should we prescribe to what society says is "the good life" or should we follow our desires and throw caution to the wind (if we have the means and the risk tolerance to do so)?  How do we find meaning in the "everydayness?"  Onward, we ponder.

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