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Revolutionary Road in Mahopac

December
15

Everyone is hearing about the new movie “Revolutionary Road” starring two of the most appealing stars of our current time, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. It is based on the 1961 novel (Random House) of the same title by Richard Yates, a grim tale of an unhappy marriage and life in the country focusing on characters Frank and April Wheeler. The appeal of Yates’ writing is how he captured every day people in every day lives. Sometimes gray, but unusually real characters.

But wait, could it be that the country life was based on Putnam County from 40 years ago?

I am not just pulling this out of thin air. Mahopac librarian Patricia Kaufman had the same thought and went to her library’s shelves to pull out a 4-year-old biography of Yates.

According to biographer, Blake Bailey, the novelist was born in Yonkers in 1926 and in the late 1950s bought a home in Mahopac. It is said that perhaps he wrote “Revolutionary Road” while living there. So while the story is indeed set in suburban Connecticut, it might have plenty of overtones of Ma-ho-pac.

Here are some excerpts from Bailey’s book “A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates” (Picador/Macmillan, 2004):

“In the summer of 1956 the Yates moved to the rural town of Mahopac in Putnam County, New York, where they lived on a private estate.” The nearly 100-acre property was owned by an aging actress who had founded the Putnam County Playhouse, writes Bailey. On the estate were overgrown gardens, crumbling cottages and a pink stucco cottage “a sort of forlorn charm” that the Yates family lived in.

As well, there was a wellhouse at the end of a long winding dirt road. “With his landlady’s blessing, Yates installed a table, chair, typewriter, and kerosene stove, and wrote most of Revolutionary Road there,” Bailey writes on page 179 of his 688-page biography.

Bailey goes on to describe Yate’s view that Mahopac was “a hick town — little more than a laundromat, bank and ice-cream parlor.”

The ice cream parlor must have been Erickson’s Ice Cream along Route 6 near Mt. Hope Road, where the Mahopac Public Library is now located, notes Kaufman, who runs the Mahopac library. As a nod to that familiar sweet shop, the library has tables and chairs in a first-floor nook where people can bring in light food, read new book choices and have free computer access.

She says she is considering putting together a program about Yates and Revolutionary Road if there is community interest.

And there might be lots to tell about Yates, because biographical data also says he wrote civil rights speeches for Robert Kennedy. Yates died in Alabama in 1992 from complications of emphysema.

The movie will be released next week and is already getting rave comments from the critics.  Yates has been described as a chronicler of suburban life like John Cheever and John Updike, but somewhat lesser known.  Maybe this will change and people will be reading his other “Young Hearts Crying” (1984),  “Disturbing the Peace” (1975),  and “Liars in Love” (1981). “Revolutionary Road” was his first novel and he also wrote plenty of short stories.

(Jacket copy from Macmillan.com)

This entry was posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008 at 6:27 pm by Barbara Nackman. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Category: Mahopac Public Library, Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

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One Response to “Revolutionary Road in Mahopac”

  1. Tim Bull

    Hi American Friends,

    I’m writing with a view of the Atlantic ocean from my window but at its opposite shore to you in New York State, on the Gower Peninsula in South West Wales UK, a favourite of the youthful Dylan Thomas from nearby Swansea.I know the article above was written sometime ago but due to references in the recently published ‘Five Days’ by Douglas Kennedy, i checked Richard Yates on Google and became intrigued. Since Revolutionary Road there has been a revival of interest in his work and i was delighted that my excellent local library service had all his reprinted works, so have ordered 4 of these, and am currently finishing the third, called ‘Young Hearts Crying’. As I stated earlier i know the above article was written sometime ago, but the village of Mahopac and the ageing actresses’ estate that Yates lived on in the mid fifties are so unequivocally the setting for Tonopac which is at much of the centre of the action in ‘Young Hearts Crying’, and the two protagonists Michael and Lucy Davenport, so obviously Yates and his wife of that time that I can’t believe the biography by Blake did not clarify that. So…...no need to for Ms Kaufmann to put together a package on Yates and Revolutionary Road, she can do one on Yates and ‘Young Hearts Crying’:-) That might well tempt me to visit an area that has always intrigued me and rural state wide is often used as a literary setting.
    Best wishes,
    Tim Bull

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About this blog
Four longtime Journal News reporters share their insights about fiction, non-fiction, poetry and short stories by bringing books discussions online and exploring the local literati scene. Lots of people say they are booklovers, but Elizabeth Ganga, Barbara Livingston Nackman, Ken Valenti and Randi Weiner really are!


What they blog about
Book Notes: An ongoing chat about events, authors and news items about books, libraries, authors and everything literary from metro news reporters Barbara Livingston Nackman and Elizabeth Ganga. Barbara has been a reporter for The Journal News since 1997. She covers municipalities in Putnam County and keeps track of book events everywhere - and began her career writing about books and libraries. Lisa has been a reporter for The Journal News since 2000, after working at several newspapers in Connecticut. She has covered cities and town in sourthern and northern Westchester and is a big Jane Austen fan (though she reads everything from history to mysteries). Both reporters work out of the Mount Kisco bureau and frequently trade tidbits about books and events.


Novel Pursuits: Ken Valenti sheds light on his ongoing experiences as a novelist and poet. He talks about his trials and tribulations including musings about projects, readings, successes, and even insights into what he is reading and finds interesting. A reporter for The Journal News and its forerunners for more than 20 years, Ken now covers transportation. His first love has been writing fiction, but he's only begun pursuing that dream in recent years. He has been a reader and fiction editor for the journal Inkwell, and has published one short story in another fiction journal.


Seasoned Works: Randi Weiner dishes up an ongoing discussion about all books - old and savory. Though Randi keeps readers abreast of school issues most days and reads lots of children's and young adult books, current science fiction and murder mysteries, her overriding passion is older works generally written before 1940. She chats online about favorites and newly discovered treasures as well as book exhibits and talks related to the dusty, the musty and the marvelous illustrators of the past. She has been a reporter since 1976, with Gannett since 1989. And for the record, she says she has a personal library of more than 4,000 volumes.


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