It’s often said that when we have children, we don’t raise them for ourselves but for them. When the time comes for the kids to leave the nest and build their own lives, we must let them go for their sakes and our own. I should know, I’ve been repeating that tenet to myself for years until I had no choice but to believe it and allow my oldest son to fly off on his own.

Focus now on Alice Randall’s heroine Windsor Armstrong, a determined and headstrong black American woman in her mid-30’s and professor of Russian literature. Windsor was raped by her mother’s white boss just as she was starting university. She nevertheless went through Harvard and raised her child alone, a boy whom she named Pushkin X after the celebrated Russian poet of African descendence who was unluckily killed in a duel over an adulterous wife.

Windsor has good reason to be proud of herself and of her son. She is a tenured professor and Pushkin is an accomplished athlete playing major league football and earning an income to match. Yet she cannot be happy. Windsor can’t get over the fact that Pushkin has chosen sports over scholarship. For this proud mother,  that is the ordinary sorts of a stereotype black American male; and worse, her son wants to marry a white Russian lap dancer/stripper who happens to be the love of his life. How Windsor would have liked Pushkin to follow in her footsteps, or the path of W.E.B. Dubois, the famous writer and first black PhD graduate from Harvard. Dubois himself would never have married outside of his race, much less to a lap dancer. As for Pushkin himself, all he wants is for his mother to be happy and marry the girl he loves and learn about his father.

So what is there to do? For her part, Windsor nags. And whines and rants and rails and ruminates about the bitter past, the tenuous present and the bleak future. Nothing escapes her musings as she spews forth angst and venom, exposes the deep layers of scar tissue that span her Detroit childhood, her gangster father and self-centered mother, rape and racism, and the difficulty of being a good parent. Readers get it all thrust upon us, Windsor’s tireless 288-page tirade.

I never made it to the end. Windsor’s diatribe wearied me. It had taken me too long to earn a spot of serenity in my life and now that I have it I refuse to take on someone else’s bitterness and bile. So I skipped ahead and gave Pushkin my blessing to marry the girl of his dreams and wished him well in his football career. So what if the boy wants to be just another ordinary American male? If he is happy in his life, then I will be happy too. Elitist poetry and literature be damned.

Among her other published works, Alice Randall wrote a highly appraised novel called  “The Wind Done Gone,” a parody of “Gone With The Wind”.

Pushkin and the Queen of Spades
by Alice Randall
288 pages

Discontentment in 1960’s suburbia New York? Yes, we know all about that, at the very least from watching the TV series Mad Men.

So what makes “Revolutionary Road” stand out and earn a movie to boot? Nothing that I can discern. Four jaded characters, four conflicting points of view, a stillborn plot, a fumbled ending. The cast isn’t very likable — people arguing interminably with each other over trivial issues until they lose all interest for each other as well as for readers, and all that’s left is just plain dullness. One line articulated by the novel’s leaden heroine, April Wheeler, “Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?” was worthy of a snicker.

Better stick to the stories of John Cheever for a much more masterful depiction of the period. Or watch Mad Men.

Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates
346 pages

Inspired by the sensational details from a famous 1906 murder case — in which a young man named Chester Gillette killed his girlfriend Grace Brown for being ‘inconveniently’ pregnant — Theodore Dreiser had all the elements to paint a great portrait of American society on its rise as an industrial power at the turn of the 20th century.

The social barriers between the poor and the (new) rich, the tugging materialism, and an underlying puritanism made up the social fabric around which Dreiser recreated Clyde Griffiths as Gillette and Roberta Alden as Brown. Driven by their human impulses and then trapped by social and moral prejudices, the outcome was a monumental tragedy of wasted young lives for both characters.

This novel is long (over 800 pages), and the writing style is torturous. It could probably be more appreciated for its social-historical value than as ‘classic literature’. If you haven’t read anything by Dreiser previously, you may want to try ‘Sister Carrie’ before tackling this one.

From blurb:

Novel by Theodore Dreiser, published in 1925. It is a complex and compassionate account of the life and death of a young antihero named Clyde Griffiths. The novel begins with Clyde’s blighted background, recounts his path to success, and culminates in his apprehension, trial, and execution for murder. The book was called by one influential critic “the worst-written great novel in the world,” but its questionable grammar and style are transcended by its narrative power. Dreiser’s intricate speculations on the extent of Clyde’s guilt are countered by his searing indictment of materialism and the American dream of success.

It basically came down to two guys for one girl. My guy lost. Sniff.

At the age of twenty-three Carrie Bell has spent her entire life in Wisconsin, with the same best friend and the same dependable, easygoing, high school sweetheart. Now to her dismay she has begun to find this life suffocating and is considering leaving it–and Mike–behind. But when Mike is paralyzed in a diving accident, leaving seems unforgivable and yet more necessary than ever. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier animates this dilemma–and Carrie’s startling response to it–with the narrative assurance, exacting realism, and moral complexity we expect from the very best fiction.

Overuse of the exclamation mark – perhaps to jolt readers out of an occasional torpor while struggling to turn the pages. An observation of men and women at the cross-road of middle age who are reexamining their successful and less than successful lives.

In Salthill-on-Hudson, a half-hour train ride from Manhattan, everyone is rich, beautiful, and — though they look much younger — middle-aged. But when Adam Berendt, a charismatic, mysterious sculptor, dies suddenly in a brash act of heroism, shock waves rock the town. But who was Adam Berendt? Was he in fact a hero, or someone more flawed and human?

I laughed all the way through till the end, and then I cried.

A young Japanese seaman jumps ship off the coast of Georgia and washes ashore on a barrier island inhabited by a strange mix of rednecks, descendents of slaves, genteel retired people, and a colony of artists. The result is a sexy, savagely hilarious tragicomedy of thwarted expectations, mistaken identity, love, jealousy and betrayal. “An absolutely stunning work, full of brilliant cross-cultural insights.”–The New York Times Book Review.