Matt’s right that James Wood is something of a stodgy traditionalist, which is why his work is so much more valuable if you take it to be about a certain type of fiction, rather than all fiction. Fortunately for us, Revolutionary Road falls into that realm, which is why his essay about Richard Yates in the most recent issue of the New Yorker is so marvelous. I don’t agree with everything he says about the sexual politics of the novel, but his description of Yates’s prose style has that rare quality of being both beautiful and almost mathematically precise–sort of like its subject, actually.

Favorite passage:

These stories share with “Revolutionary Road” an astonishing comprehension that is sometimes a little close to cruelty. What impresses is the refusal to let sentiment seep in (though in the later work this toughness, as in Hemingway, can become its own species of sentimentality).

Which is why Revolutionary Road and, say, For Whom the Bell Tolls are both so moving. I don’t have high hopes for the film adaptation of the former, though. So much of the joy from Revolutionary Road comes from the perfect, crisp precision of Yates’s prose, and I don’t know how that could possibly be replicated on film.

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