Seeking to break out of their suburban rut, April convinces Frank they should move to Paris, where she will work and support him while he realizes his vague ambition to be something other than an office worker. Unfortunately, Frank (from whose point of view most of the novel is told) is a weak reed, doing the minimum to get by at work without developing any alternative self, in contrast with April’s taking concrete steps to accomplish their move. When April conceives their third child, their plan to leave America crumbles, not least because Frank is flattered by praise from his supervisors at work and beginning to identify with his mundane job. April realizes that she doesn’t know herself any more and that she doesn’t love Frank; she tries to abort their child herself, but botches the attempt and dies in her effort to fight the forces keeping her in her suburban housewife lifestyle. Frank grieves, but soon becomes absorbed by the work he had once despised, and "dies" an inward death.
In the October 1999 issue of the Boston Review, Yates was quoted on his central theme: "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." The Wheelers are thwarted at every turn. Confronted with the painful truth of their ordinary existence and conflicts in their crumbling marriage, their frustrations and yearnings for something better represent the tattered remnants of the American Dream.
Ah, where to begin? Entirely negative, like all left-wing literature, this nasty work of art ignores Life and what is good in it and concentrates on the contradictions. Alas, the lack of the label "tragedy" lets us wander in innocent and apt for the implicit propaganda.
What are their crimes? Frank is accused of being human, seeking ease and security, and of failing to be a superman; April is the foil, the tougher or at least more desperate one, the one who seems to have a clue – and yet she doesn’t. All she understands is that she wants more and so, given Life but eschewing it and her own limited self, she strikes out and destroys life (and others’ lives) because she is thwarted in her uncertain malaise.
"Ooops, I got married and can’t handle it. Why am I not Coco Chanel?" Indeed, why not? Ooops – because you’re human and living here on earth, perhaps?
The novel, despite the article-author’s comment, does not contradict ‘the American Dream’. The American Dream is to have a family, own a home, and succeed at what you can succeed at. The tragedy in this novel is that April has other dreams, but doesn’t understand them, and she throws away the conventional one along with her life without ever coming to understand what she should have been doing. Revolution, indeed, in the modern sense: Whereas in the old sense it meant a rotation of the wheel of things, that is, change, today it means death as a policy of living: Hooray for Pol Pot.
In life we have one central choice – live or die. There are no guarantees, there is no happy ending, there is little chance of fame or glory. April chooses death, as a protest against – what? Her husband? Her Self? Against Life. At the end of the novel, Frank is the one who has chosen to live, vilely and normally, in grief and regret. Quality of life, after all, is NOT a choice, but an uncontrollable lottery-loss, a grief delivered on birth, along with our Selves. The point is that we do what we can with that, shoved up against ragged adversity. Perhaps Yates meant that, too.