April Wheeler Is My Literary Hero

Revolutionary Road 2008-8

“I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvellous golden people somewhere…”

It was always April’s dream. Frank entertained it for a while, as much as he could, but it was always April’s dream to run away to Paris. To pack up, sell the house, the car, the washer-dryer and have a new life. April will get a job and support Frank as he discovers what it is he really wants to do with his life. It seems like a selfless dream, the robotic wife willing to change for her husband, to help him as he lays back and considers who he can be, but it is her dream, she is the one announcing it, proclaiming it, she wants out more than he does and she’s willing to do anything, even butter the dream up to suit him.

April Wheeler doesn’t want to do it alone, she wants her husband by her side, she wants the man she fell in love with – adventurous, driven, audacious. All the things she still is, only she can’t do it alone because she’s a mother and a wife and because this is 1950s Connecticut and when can women say and do what they want? April has a dream and she wants to fulfil it, she has to fulfil it because failure is not an option. It is their one and only chance.

April Wheeler is my literary hero.

“It takes back bone to lead the life you want.”

Revolutionary Road was published in December 1961. It was Richard Yates’s first book. I read it for the first time when I was sixteen. I read it and liked it but knew I could like it more. It affected me somehow yet I hadn’t fully discovered how much the book would affect me and my writing and the way I went about life.

Revolutionary Road is my book in the same way it is many others who love and adore it. Yates spoke to me. April Wheeler is my person in literature, the person I get, the person I think would get me. She is my literary hero because she fights. She proposes the idea they move, she is the one to realise what is unrealistic – “I think it’s unrealistic for a man with a fine mind to go on working like a dog year after year at a job he can’t stand, coming home to a house he can’t stand in a place he can’t stand either, to a wife who’s equally unable to stand the same things…” – she is the one who acts and is willing to change everything to save them from themselves.

Because Frank and April have brought themselves together and through their life on a dream: “Because everything you said was based on this great premise of ours that we’re somehow very special and superior to the whole thing, and I wanted to say ‘But we’re not! Look at us! We’re just like the people you’re talking about! We are the people you’re talking about!” The realisation causes April and Frank’s reaction but sets in motion their doom. April becomes pregnant and Frank caves into normalcy and safety again formed with a promotion. The plan fails and April is trapped again. The third half of the book is my favourite – it is April’s final act, April’s final attempt to get out.

‘I couldn’t stop laughing about the Inability to Love, and that’s why I can’t stand to let you touch me, and that’s why I’ll never again believe in anything you think, let alone anything you say.’

I think there comes a point where April realises Frank is no longer the man she met. He’s happy with what he has – kids, big house, money, job, car – and she knows it should be enough. But it’s not. Not for her. And it shouldn’t be for him. When they met they met with the presumption that they would do great things, that they would not be ordinary, they would be extraordinary. They thrived on ambition and possibility. Somewhere along the line, Frank stopped wanting that life and April never did.

In the third part of the book, April runs to the woods to think. After fighting off Frank, she stays out there for hours, until it’s dark and she’s concluded what she needs to do. I loved that scene within the book, a real horror story in suburbia. The horror story of broken promises, of littered dreams.

“All I know is what I feel, and I know what I feel I’ve got to do.”

April Wheeler did not kill herself.

When I first finished the book I believed she had. She wanted out and the only way out was to die but as the years of pondering the subject compressed I have concluded that she did not want to kill herself. I see April Wheeler who wanted to live the life she wanted and in that life there was no room for another baby, she could not start all over again, stay here for longer.

She knew the risks. She knew it was a possibility it could go wrong but she did it anyway, taking precautions encase they did. I see April’s botched abortion as her final attempt at taking control of her life, not the life she shared with Frank. It was her holding onto this vision, this possible life, this dream, and going toward it. But failing.

April Wheeler did not kill herself, she made a choice, took a risk.

‘No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.’

April Wheeler is my literary hero because she has high expectations of what she sees for herself and her marriage and her children. Her resilience and anger is an anger toward failure, toward feeling stuck, encaged.

April Wheeler is my literary hero because she is truthful and within that she is harsh. April wants to tell the truth – she wants to be honest, she hopes it will make Frank something better, someone he always wanted to be. On his birthday he tells the same story he’s told years before about his time in the war. The Campbell’s, who have also heard the story, smile and nod. April looks at him with a “stare of pitying boredom”. Frank needs new stories, she needs new stories.

April Wheeler is my literary hero because to her “mathematics must be very dull”. Not that I have anything against mathematics – in fact April and I disagree on this fact – but because April is assertive. She has opinions. I re-watched Sam Mendes’ film a few weeks ago after reading essays in Bad Feminist and Everyday Sexism. Today’s women have it bad, women in the fifties even more so.

Because she is fictional, a creation of Richard Yates, who’s other works make his characters bleed, as he did with his first book. Yates pulls his characters apart, he doesn’t make them good or bad, evil or heroic, he shows them as they are. He shows them honestly.

Because in her apathy she is most powerful and it is fascinating to read (and watch). When Frank confesses to April he’s slept with a woman from work a few times she doesn’t care. “Why did you tell me about it? What’s the point? Is it supposed to make me jealous, or something? Is it supposed to make me fall in love with you, or back into bed with you, or what? I mean what am I supposed to say?’

Because she is not weak with love. She knows she loves Frank and, when she sleeps with their neighbour, Shep, when he tells her he loves her, he’s always loved her, she tells him to be quiet. She doesn’t love him, she will never love him, she did something selfish, she did something for herself, she knows all of this – she is aware. She is horrifically and brutally aware of everything there is to feel and fail.

April Wheeler is my literary hero.