This book has kindled my interest of many after the adaptation of the work into a movie ( about which my friend Sri made a nice note here) and the recent discussion of this book in this forum. This book was originally published in 1961 and gained acceptance after his death in 1992 as a re-discovered classic.
The usual sub-urban life, married young couple with 2 kids, a steady job, a home and the regular monotonous life , with occasional visits by local friends. A typical middle class urban life. The post world war American life, crippled with issues of personal security and the quest to try shake out the set pattern of life , the inability to carry on with your plans are all the same anywhere in the world.
Frank in his late twenties and April Wheeler, are nothing exceptional from the usual 1950s middle class America. The same usual life, the silly quarrels, the hopes for a better future and the plans to escape from this rigid life to explore pastures in Europe.
The plots and the synopsis can be read here.
Frank does not particularly enjoys his job. He does not even know what is his real job there. As he answers his wife on the job after he is appointed,
"The sales what?" "Promotion? I don't get it. What does that mean , you are supposed to do?"
"Who the hell knows? They explained it to me for half an hour and still I dont know, and I dont think they do either".
April is home looking after the kids and preparing for Franks return in the evening.
Unlike others, they are not waiting for things to happen on its own. April, takes the initiatives and plans for their future in Paris. She does all the ground work, letting kids know, enquire with the travel agents, buying elementary French for herself and advanced French for Frank , discussing the possible selling of the house with Mrs.Givings, make appropriate announcement to the friends..and all. Frank on the other hand allows her to take control over these , contemplating his own move in office with his imminent leaving of the job.
Well, an unwanted pregnancy puts a halt to all the preparations. While April wanted to abort this, the more catholic Frank dissuades her from it. They now have to re-track all the preparations. This, with the new found importance of Frank in Office, has made things to deteriorate between them till the point of total break down. the only was April see to come of it is to execute her plan to abort the kid. The attempt ends her up in the hospital where she succumb to the bleeding.
What makes this different is its closeness to reality. There is no pretence , no over-hyped characterisation ( even the madman John is well within the realistic limits). There is no good or bad people , there are only real people. While it looked more like a personal tragedy of the Wheelers family, as the author puts it, it is the tragedy of every single human being. "If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy."
A very realistic novel supported with extremely polished and attractive prose, makes it a good read. There aren't any outstanding passages, or incidents for people to keep quoting as in the case of other great novels. But this has some sublime beauty , that keeps you glued. While I agree with others in their judgement as a fantastic book, it might not appear in my 'top 25' books selection.
On a lighter note , what I found startling, is this description, which has lot of my personal attributes. " Shep Campbell gained a reputation as a snob. He antagonised Milly, and frightened her, for he had become a moody listener to classical music and a sulking reader of literary quarterlies."
Suggested Read : NY Times Review, Guardian Review, Boston Review