There's no two ways about it, it's really depressing. But it's so well done and so worth it that I can't help but recommend it. Yates is able to portray fighting couples more accurately than any other writer I can think of and such a big part of what makes the constant battles between Frank and April Wheeler so effective is that?neither one of them is really a horrible person exactly. Rabbit is a terrible human being, Jernigan is awful, Julian English is weak and ultimately pathetic but both Frank and April are somewhat sympathetic. And charming. To a degree.
I don't want to spoil it for you, I'll try to keep major plot points out of the blog, but it starts off with an amazing piece of local theater. Then it gets straight to the fighting. Over the course of the summer of 1955 the lives of these two people in a western Connecticut suburb are destroyed.
I've often remarked that what separates this from other classics in the Asshole Man canon is the fact that the Wheelers are, at first, kind of like you. These are smart, literate, funny people who consider themselves anything but typical. And that's not too hard to identify with. But they're not a good couple and they're not well developed people and, like any classic Asshole Man novel, they grapple with what they want versus what they have.
I don't know what happened in the late 50s, I can only assume it had to do with coming home from the war to a life played out in bland suburban sprawl, but Rabbit takes place in the '60s and Jernigan in the '90s so I feel like this is a timeless malaise. This fear that your life is not developing the way you want it to; this fear that the future holds no promise; this fear that you're being “contaminated” by the mediocre people and environment you've become stuck in; this fear that youth has finally slipped away forever and that not only did you totally miss out on all the good parts and are filled with regret, but all those things that were good and all those times that you felt like their was so much promise have dissolved, come to naught, leaving you empty and frustrated and, more often than not, hung-over.
It's this kind of mind frame that makes for the fighting. Yates is able to capture the way that arguments unfold both when totally improvised and when pre-meditated. There are things Frank absolutely does not want to say out loud, he's not even really feeling them but, once the tiniest thing doesn't go the way he wants it to, he angers and all the things he absolutely did not want to say to her spill out of his mouth in a firestorm designed to hurt her as much as and as deeply possible. It's intense.
The plot involves a plan to escape from all that is cliche, then that plan falls apart and husband and wife begin a bitter game of wills that no one comes out of unchanged. I know it sounds grim and heavy, it is, but it's so expertly crafted and parts of it are so well observed and sarcastic that I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
Read it before the filmed adaptation, which reunites the greatest on-screen lovers of our (or any) generation (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), comes out next year. I'm sure it will be fine, but there's so much fantastic subtlety in the book, even the most skillful and competent screenwriters will have to jettison some of the good stuff.