Sunday, July 19, 2009

Frank Wheeler v. Leroy Moffitt

The old man and I have listened to recorded books as we've made our way across the country. The first book was Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. The reader was fabulous, truly a compliment since the book houses some incredibly brutal fights between a husband, Frank Wheeler, and his wife, April Wheeler.

We also listened to a short story that I recorded myself--a poo-poo recording filled with blanks and sorries--called "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason. Interestingly enough, both the short story and the book contain narrator husbands, men who don't want to be and never meant to be who they are, what they became. Both characters watch their women slip away and, somehow simultaneously, their manhood. Frank Wheeler drinks the kool-aide of suburban life: this way of life is easier, cheaper, you don't have any friends and hate your job, and life is easy because someone is at home raising your kids. Leroy Moffitt is in trouble for never really knowing his wife because he was always on the road as a truck driver until a recent accident. Leroy can't accept that his wife would want to leave him, that she'd want to take classes at the community college, that she'd rather be alone than be with him. When she says, "I want to leave you," he can only stammer, "No you don't." Likewise Frank Wheeler can't reconcile that he's a strangely terrible parent, that he doesn't let his wife abort their baby because he can't admit that he has a wife who doesn't want to have his baby. When April Wheeler says, "I don't love you anymore," Frank yells, "You Goddamn love me!"

Both "Shiloh" and Revolutionary Road maneuver around the corners of narrative point of view. Although it's written in third person limited from Leroy's perspective, Bobbie Ann Mason tricks her readers into feeling sorry for Leroy. But you realize his sits around doing nothing while his wife is body building and learning the organ. (Their break-up in the middle of the bloodiest battlefield of the Civil War is an excellent touch.) Revolutionary Road has a beguiling, unbalanced omniscient point of view. The characters are marvelously rich and if the book weren't written in such a macho, chest-pounding, I AM FICTION sort of way, I wouldn't have noticed that I was listening to a novel. The reason why I say this is that April Wheeler doesn't get tracked like the other characters do. You don't realize how far gone she is, how sick of the suburbs she is, how desperate she is to move to Paris until it is too late. Maybe I say this because the old man saw the movie and said that the movie was more balanced as far as she was concerned.

One point I'd like to make in Frank Wheeler's defense is that Revolutionary Road is a tale about veterans as much as it is one of suburban disillusionment. The one friend Frank Wheeler has, the one in love with April Wheeler, is also a veteran who exchanges war stories with him. New York City was probably a very different place in those days and there's something to say about being old before your time because of war. It's frightening to think about the boom and boom and bust of the mid '50's, what awful things were happening in such prim houses.

1 comment:

walter faure said...

I have to respectfully disagree about April. Just Flaubert said, Je suis Madame Bovary, Yates always claimed that April was him.