Beatrice Reviews “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates

“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates
★★★★★

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In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model American couple: bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank’s job is dull. And April never saw herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is now about to crumble. With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves. 


It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity

What. A. Novel.

Revolutionary Road had been on my to-read list for the longest time but I had repeatedly put it off, hearing from friends and acquaintances that the subject matter was ‘dreary and depressing’. Not that I have anything against heart-wrenching novels but in my mind, the prospect of reading about a failing marriage for a couple who deluded themselves into chasing the grand illusion of the ‘American Dream’ could wait.

And if you’re putting it off too: stop. Wait no longer. Grab your copy of Richard Yates’ brilliant masterpiece and devour it. Afterward, watch the feature movie starring none other than the marvellous Leonardo DiCaprio and captivating Kate Winslet. That’s what I did and boy, was that an emotional ride.

You’re painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.

April and Frank Wheeler are the textbook definition of that adventurous, explorative couple that blindly believe they are better than the rest of the world; a world confined to a dull existence that goes hand in hand with conformity in suburban America. Or at least, they try to be.

Yates’ does a fine job of examining the 1950s as a time driven by conformity in exchange for the promise of economic and social security. The writing is, no doubt, wonderful. I found myself turning the page as each line connected effortlessly to the next, painting vivid pictures in my head as if I, too, were in the same race for meaning and beauty out of life as the characters are.

However, that’s where the satirical elements come in. I couldn’t help but laugh and snort derisively through April and Frank’s (multiple) heated arguments. They say communication is key in a relationship and I couldn’t agree more but the two, as much as they talk (with Frank doing the majority of the talking) fail to grasp each other’s feelings. Communication is dead if there is no attempt made to truly understand and relate to what the other is going through or trying to express. And that’s where Frank and April fall short, amidst several other things.

The two entertain a shared illusion of superiority, characterised by their arrogance in running after the ‘American Dream’ while belittling those around them. However, they refuse to confront their own shortcomings and this is where the real tragedy lies – not in being trapped to a dull routine-based life but in their inability to face their own demons, instead choosing to find excuses for their dissatisfaction in other things.

Although I heavily disliked the characters themselves, I couldn’t help but amaze over the beautiful way in which they are etched out throughout the novel by Yates. Frank Wheeler, to put it into today’s colorful lingo, is full of bullshit. I do not wish to dwell too much into the details of his persona, nor the (slightly) favorable character development once the ghosts of his past are revealed, but Frank is poison to April as much as she is to him.

Here are two lonely souls that strive so hard to be this ‘perfect couple’ that the neighborhood views them as, but beyond the facade of their effortless partnership lies the wistfulness of having rushed and projected the promise of happiness and perfection onto the wrong person. Yates illustrates the dangers of romanticizing irrational dreams into theatrical possibilities, in place of accepting one’s limitations in a society driven by conformity.

The character spotlight extends beyond Frank and April Wheeler, with one particular favorite being John Givings. John’s character represents exactly what Frank and April strive to be but tragically fail at. He is a symbol of rebellion against the routine and conventional societal values of the 1950s. Described and no doubt viewed by the two as a “nut case” for having been wheeled off to an insane asylum, he’s probably the one person in the novel that calls things out for what they are and sees through the troubled couple.

Now you’ve said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that’s all we ever talked about. We’d sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said ‘hopeless,’ though; that’s where we’d chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that’s when there’s nothing to do but take off. 

The novel is a must-read. There’s something for everyone to take away. We might not be living in 1950s America but there is truthto this story. Yates covers various important themes such as feminism (in specific, through the lack of choice and April’s need for liberation), the cost of freedom and the tragedy of unrealized dreams in a world where they were considered foolish. Yates shows us the bitter truth of mediocrity and the startling reality that may unfold in one’s search for perfection: a prison of one’s own making.

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Beatrice Reviews “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
★★★★★

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The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?


I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

I remember the first time I heard about this book. Chandler Bing, one of my favorite characters from FRIENDS, made a reference to it. “But we can’t live in the small apartment after we’ve lived here! Didn’t you ever read Flowers for Algernon?” To which, Joey made a not-so-witty reply (being Joey of course).

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When I started reading this novel, I did not expect the level of emotional attachment I would form with the characters to be so deep and truly, in a sense, profound. This story isn’t about some mouse on the cover (as some people believed it to be) but a tale of humanity, hope and the strength of the human spirit. This novel being classified as part of the ‘science-fiction’ genre, I did not expect it to explore the human condition in the way that it does.

I am afraid. Not of life, or death, of nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.

Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. Everyone sees him as a retard, a moron. No one sees him for what he truly is: a human being. In his pursuit for normalcy and social acceptance, Charlie is admitted into an experiment designed to increase his intelligence to a nearly ‘super-human’ level. Of course, such endeavors come at a price. With self-actualization comes the bitter truth that the sheltered life he leads is not what it seems.

Now I understand that one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.

The book examines a number of things and ultimately raises the philosophical question of the meaning of life. Everything you think you know is put under the lens. In the process of examining several themes such as mental disabilities, kindness, intelligence and human nature (and how often those three things overlap), Flowers for Algernon begs the question of what it means to be human. Should our self-worth be measured through our IQ, or through the capacity we have for love?

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.

I do not wish to prattle on about my love for this novella too much but I sincerely urge each of you to go read it. Flowers for Algernon is a godsend for those of us who have lost our appreciation for the simpler things in life.

The human civilization continues to seek ways to expand its’ intelligence and in turn, dominance over this world. In this journey, we have to make sacrifices to achieve such greatness but at what cost? At what point in our search for fulfillment will we have lost too much of our essence? At what point will we think to stop, breathe and reconsider what it means to be human?

Beatrice Reviews “Our Last Summer: A Personal Memoir” by Ajay Peter Manuel

“Our Last Summer: A Personal Memoir” by Ajay Peter Manuel

★★

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Life is an adventure to embark upon. Having traveled around the world, my life has been full of separations, and new beginnings. Time flows incessantly, no matter what happens around us. The last six years of my life describe a unique journey from high school in Sudan to a university in Canada. The experience enabled me to learn the importance of family, friends, and love- along with the need to live life without regrets. My story begins with my struggles as an eleventh grader at Khartoum American School in Sudan, revealing the raw emotions of my first infatuation with a girl, her rejection, and my subsequent efforts to move on without her. Nothing could have prepared me then for the sequence of events that were to unfold in my life that summer, and the few years that followed. It all began when I found a friend in Tina. Our Last Summer offers a poignant glimpse into a young man’s coming-of-age journey through laughter, tears, betrayal, infatuation, and love as he cherishes the memories of his past, learns to live in the present, and happily anticipates his future.

 

One of the reading challenges on the list is to read a memoir and I figured – hey! It just so happens that my brother has a published book which is a memoir – why not read that? And so I did.

Our Last Summer is the journey of a teenager’s transition into adulthood through his various experiences through friendship, family, and love. We delve into the writer’s past as he reminisces of his time in high school that helped him to become the person he is today. As the blurb above suggests, this ranges from many things that we can all relate to on some level – relationships with people that have opened our eyes to what true friendship is about, our first experience with ‘crushing’ on someone and finding the will to have your heart move on from the hurt of a betrayal. Our Last Summer has something to offer everyone, especially to those who too are fond of their years in high school.

Life always presents us with hurdles and reality doesn’t come without its share of regrets, but you can always make one hell of a nice story about it.

The memoir, of course, employs the narrative voice of a first person point of view. We slip into the shoes and mindset of the writer as he shares his story with us. The ‘characters’, in this case are not fictional, but actual people. If at all, it only makes it easier to relate to them.

We all have that extremely close friend who we think of as a brother or sister. We’ve also had our share of first crushes and infatuations that later had us going: ‘what had gotten into my mind?’ Reading this book, I was able to connect to the various personalities I came across, bearing in mind my own experiences and friends that I’ve had as well.

I also loved the style in which the memoir was written. First and foremost, each chapter started off with a small quote that kind of foreshadows what the chapter will be covering. I found that each quote tied in nicely with the chapter while reading, in a way enhancing the message that Ajay Peter Manuel is trying to get through and at the same time, posing questions to the reader.

Be it success, joy, failure, or disappointment, a man who lives freely should be able to accept the reality of such experiences; even when all is lost, continue to live with hope and dream to strive for the best.

Our Last Summer isn’t only explored through chapters narrating the events of his high school life but the writer also includes poetry, lyrics, and journal entries to bring forth the raw emotions he was feeling at the time. The poems and songs were beautifully written to fit into the mood the chapter brings forth, and delving into his journal entries was a good change from the narration, giving us a more personal insight. I also loved the bits and pieces of light humor and jokes that pop up in the novel from time to time.

She said, “I hate you!” Three words—and she might as well have killed me then.

The only possible drawback I could say there was to this novel is the pacing. Some may find that the pacing of the story is slow, and at certain parts it did seem to drag on. But also, I have to keep in mind that this piece is a memoir. I can see that Ajay Peter Manuel is simply trying to paint a full picture in the minds of the readers and to explore the spectrum of emotions he feels to help take us back on this journey with him.

Our Last Summer is a wondrous blend of poetry and prose, that not only shares the story of the writer himself but a story we have all lived, or will live, at some point in this miracle called life. Through his journey, we recount our own and it’s a melancholic and bittersweet read. Having putting the book down, I felt lighter, happier and had my own walk down memory lane (as cliche as that sounds).

In life, when you bring people together, share your lives together, indulging in their emotions as they do in yours, you risk changing things and losing control. It’s all chaos – until you look back and realize that the only thing you can do is record time as it passes so that even when everything around us is in motion, we still have the permanence of memories.

Ajay Peter Manuel not only invites us to revisit the memories he formed as a budding young man in high school, but reminds us of the beauty of forming our own.

Beatrice Reviews “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson (Novel)

“I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson
★★

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Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

 

Just before I had started to read this book, I had realized how much I’d been dishing out 5*s for different books and decided it was time to get serious and not give away that rating so easily. So when I started reading, I tried to keep that thought in mind and put on my micro-vision specs, determined to find at least one flaw with this book. The more I read, the more desperate I grew. I ended up fighting a battle in my mind as I gave I’ll Give You the Sun 5*s and adding it to my ‘all time favourites’ shelf on Goodreads because it is a literary masterpiece. 

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