I haven’t read any fiction since last summer, and then this week I read Revolutionary Road. The plan had been to get stuck into my dissertation reading on my tube journeys but AS IF there is a place for Slavoj Zizek on the northern line at 8.30am. So I picked a paperback off the shelf on Monday morning and for the past seven days I’ve been living in 1950s Connecticut.
Well, actually, no. I haven’t been living Revolutionary Road, I’ve been living in a palpable sense of relief. Seriously. THANK FUCK my life is good right now, because reading this book when you’re in a difficult place must put you on suicide watch. Richard Yates’s writing is so wonderful, his characters so completely fraught with terror about their decisions, it doesn’t really matter that the decisions they have to make are different to mine. It just matters that they’re terrifying decisions. And each one can go a million different ways.
Everything I’ve seen this week - the show that we’ve been doing at work that I’ve already seen once before, then RomCom by Glen Neath and a piece of writing by Jess Latowicki at Forest Fringe on Friday, then tonight Mies Julie at Riverside Studios - everything has been watched through a veil of Revolutionary Road Relief. I’ve been so fucking grateful that I’ve not become a freedom fighter; not become complacent in a boring, easy, comfy relationship; not been shackled with an urgent need for pretty dresses and kitchen appliances; not been tied to a hometown that offers me nothing. At Mies Julie tonight I was so fucking grateful for my own life and my own directionless decision-making that I actually started the standing ovation. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. It was such a visceral, bleak, can’t-even-breathe performance that it was really tough. Just like reading Revolutionary Road has been this week. Like watching a slow-motion car-crash, constantly believing that there’s an opportunity to change the course of the story but then everything ultimately turning to shit anyway. I’ve been able to read Revolutionary Road in little bits, two or three chapters at a time, depending on how long I’ve had to wait for a Charing Cross train. Getting to my desk at 9.30am has felt like a welcome rest from an emotional battleground. I’ve been able to pause the car-crash to live my life, but the never has the car stopped crashing.
It’s a brilliant, exhausting, ordeal of a book. Totally recommended. Maybe wait a few days before attempting Mies Julie though. I feel like I need a whisky and a dark room.
The recent advent of Mad Men series two on BBC4 has reminded me that I never watched the first one, and this has been an omission I’ve been rectifying, thanks to LoveFilm. Annoyingly, they’ll only send me one disc of the box set at a time, but at least I’m not going on enormous telly binges like when me and Andy got The Wire and then neglected to wash or get dressed until we’d seen all sixty-plus hours of it.
I love watching American stuff about ‘wholesome’ families in the sixties. I love the glamour and well-roundedness of it all, even if things are distinctly darker below the surface. I love Mad Men for the secretary’s hairstyles as much as the plot intricacies. There’s one woman (a satisfyingly shapely woman, in these size zero times) who has the most incredible hair. It seriously must be glued in place. There’s no hairspray strong enough to maintain such perfection.
Coincidentally, I’m reading Rabbit, Run by John Updike at the moment, another tale of young wholesome 1960s families who fall apart at the seams, albeit in gorgeous lace nightgowns and with ribbons in their hair. In keeping with my ability to discover authors via their obituaries (see also Kurt Vonnegut and Iris Murdoch) I’m new to Updike, but I chose Rabbit, Run as my introduction because of I kept seeing it referred to as the suburban equivalent of a Kerouac novel. I hated On The Road, partly because I don’t think the man can string a decent sentence together, but also because I already know what it’s like to get pissed and sleep on someone’s floor. It seems silly, considering all these books and films and TV shows about 1960s America are about society’s dysfunction (I daren’t go anywhere near Revolutionary Road in case it depresses me too much), but when you live in one of the more notorious districts of south Manchester, where gun crime is rife and rainfall is above the national average, the idea of wearing a ribbon in my hair and cooking dinner for my white collar husband in upstate New York feels like the very epitome of escapism.
(Yes, I know that Rabbit’s wife is a alcoholic and he runs off to live with a whore, but at least she’s a shapely whore! She has hips and tits and ass, and that gives this fat woman hope.)