Don't read this if you're in a long term relationship that is in difficulties, especially if you are stuck in a dull job as well: it may be too pertinent. That caveat aside, it's not a depressing book: as with all his books (which all have strong autobiographical elements) there is cold beauty in the pain of struggles with work, relationships, drink, and money.
It is the painfully insightful story of a youngish couple, with two small children, living in New England in the 1950s. Both have lingering hurt and dysfunction from their childhoods, which exacerbates the slow and painful disintegration of their relationship. April has the idea of a fresh start in Paris, where she will support Frank till he works out what he wants to do with his life. This exciting possibility and shared aim changes the dynamic of their lives.
Yates is adept at picking apart the well-intentioned duplicity within couples, which both causes and prevents further hurt, misunderstanding and deception, and the chasm between thoughts/dreams and actions. The competitive dynamics of suburbia are similarly exposed. Keeping up appearances is important, which is why, at the start of the novel, April is so upset at the debacle of the am dram.
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There are a few potential literary clichés used well and originally, so that each gives insight in a fresh way: the Knox corporation being something to escape from and later something that provides escape; the nosey neighbour with "kinetic energy in the set of her shoulders...[and:] angrily buttoned-up clothes"; John Givings as the wise fool, and Frank's unfinished path to nowhere.
Passages about Frank's work, and especially his cavalier approach to sorting his In Tray (pages 85 and 124) made a great metaphor for his approach to life, laden with overtones of Kafka - a tough target, hit with panache - much like the whole book.