|The Easter Parade: A Novel
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In The Easter Parade, first published in 1976, we meet sisters Sarah and Emily Grimes when they are still the children of divorced parents. We observe the sisters over four decades, watching them grow into two very different women. Sarah is stable and stalwart, settling into an unhappy marriage. Emily is precocious and independent, struggling with one unsatisfactory love affair after another. Richard Yates's classic novel is about how both women struggle to overcome their tarnished family's past, and how both finally reach for some semblance of renewal.
This is the mystery of Richard Yates: how did a writer so well-respected? even loved? by his peers,
a writer capable of moving his readers so deeply, fall for all intents out of print, and so quickly?
How is it possible that an author whose work defined the lostness of the Age of Anxiety as deftly as
Fitzgeraldys did that of the Jazz Age, an author who influenced American literary icons like
Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus, among others, an author so forthright and plainspoken in his
prose and choice of characters, can now be found only by special order or in the dusty, floor-level
end of the fiction section in secondhand stores? And how come no one knows this? How come no
one does anything about it?
-Stewart O'Nan, The Lost World of Richard Yates (Boston Review)
Well, as it turns out, O'Nan did do something about. His essay, and similar proselytizing by Richard
Russo, got Yates back into print and earned the recent release of his Collected Stories genuine big
event status, with reviews and reappraisals in all the leading papers and journals. For now at least,
he's been rediscovered and restored to an exalted position. But if you read The Easter Parade, it's easy
to see why he faded away so fast; this isn't the kind of book that the intelligentsia would want people
reading, nor would they care to continue to face its ugly truths themselves.
In one of the most depressing opening lines you'd ever want to read, Yates let's the reader know
exactly what he's in for, and why :
Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the
trouble began with their parents' divorce.
The promise of the 60s was that the abandonment of traditional morality, family structures, traditions,
and beliefs would have a liberating effect and make all our lives better. But Yates proceeds instead to
show just how catastrophic these changes were. The older Grimes sister, Sarah, marries a man who
looks like Laurence Olivier, and despite an outwardly happy and comfortable life, ends up being
battered as they teeter on the brink of financial ruin.
Younger sister Emily becomes little more than a slattern, scrumping in parks and waking with
strangers, though she does have a couple of longer term relationships.
The troubles of both can be traced directly to the divorce of their parents. When Emily finds out that
her sister is being beaten by her husband, Sarah tells her :
It's a marriage. If you want to stay married you learn to put up with things.
Emily's prototypical affair is with Ted Banks :
...both felt an urge to drink too much when they were together, as if they didn't want to touch each
The one sister is so desperate to hold her marriage together that she'll endure anything. The other is
so afraid of being rejected that she has to have serial relationships and to erect a haze of booze
between herself and her men.
The story is, in fact, soaked in alcohol. And it becomes clear that people use drink to avoid their real
selves, each other, and genuine interaction. It turns out that the "freedom" they've theoretically
gained has made them miserable, is even killing them.
Towards the end of the novel, after Sarah has apparently, though not officially, been killed by her
husband, one of her sons tells Emily :
'You know something? I've always admired you, Aunt Emmy. My mother used to say "Emmy's a
free spirit." I didn't know what that meant when I was little, so I asked her once. And she said
"Emmy doesn't care what anybody thinks. She's her own person and she goes her own way."
The walls of Emily's throat closed up. When she felt it was safe to speak she said 'Did she really
Of course she's proud, an older sister pronouncing that she'd realized the dream of their generation, to
be free. But we, the readers, are privy to the awful truth : she's utterly alone, her past wasted, her
future hopeless, alcohol killing her as it killed her mother and father, and contributed to the death of
her sister. The hard won kudos of which she is so proud reads like a death sentence, not just for her,
but for all who thought that this atomized life would make them happy.
The book is exactly as depressing as it sounds like it would be, though there is much dark humor in
it. The story is direct and economical, covering the two women's lives in just over two hundred
pages. Most of all, it is devastating, a brutally honest depiction of tragic choices and truly empty
lives. No wonder he went out of print, the folks who foisted this culture on us were just destroying
the evidence, the way any guilt-ridden perps would..
GRADE : A...more info
- Minimal Realism at its Best!
Here we have a less known great author whose every word, every sentence, is packed with meaning and art. Mr. Yates must be the Flaubert of 20th Century writers in his near perfectly written and readable books. This one has about everything.The two sisters of the divorced parents grow up under this cloud of parental dissolution, but by late adolescence seem on their way to happiness and security. The older marries of the British "Boy Next Door" (Actually upstairs), the younger is awarded a full scholarship to Barnard, no mean feat. With excursions throughout the NYC area,including a visit to the father's newspaper building, the village,etc. we slowly see how these lives deteriorate into a bad marriage, and too many sad relationships. Maybe a bit gloomy, but not without its humor, including a very odd women's group, this is a very breezy and easy read, with more insights than you can usually find in a much longer family saga....more info
- The thin line between realism and disgust
I didn't like this book as much as Revolutionary Road - I don't think it's as good a book - mainly because the subject matter just doesn't seem quite right for a novel: people trapped in cycles of failure that they don't have the strength to escape just aren't good subjects for novels. The Easter Parade has no narrative thrust: we follow this poor woman through failed relationship after failed relationship to the point where they start to blend together and all we have is a hopeless feeling - at some point, she actually started to bore me.
This is, in a way, an accomplishment, because Yates has duplicated the feeling of the main character: after a certain number of breakups, Emily is probably bored with herself, too, bored with her own misery. This is why her life is sympathetic and tragic instead of intolerable - she never succumbs to self-pity, and at the end her strongest feeling is just one of total incomprehension at the way her life has turned out. The achievement of this book for most readers, I think, is forcing us to look around and say - these people exist, this is how life is for some people. Whereas reading Revolutionary Road was like getting assaulted: this is what YOU are like too, it said, and don't try to wriggle out of it.
But novels need forward drive, they need some sort of engine to move them forward, and while Yates is an absolute master at summary narration, and jumping forward in time, the material is what it is. Imagine writing a novel about Sisyphus - how in the world could you make it interesting, even for a few hundred pages? That's pretty much what The Easter Parade is; and it's an achievement for the attempt, and the fact that Yates writes about lives that authors usually don't bother exploring in depth. Matthew Arnold said about Anna Karenina that we're not meant to see it as a piece of life and not a work of art; he's wrong about that regarding Anna Karenina, but the description could probably be applied here.
Another thing that struck me about this book was that Yates, for a realistic writer, has very selective empathy. In this book, the descriptions of Pooky (the mother's pet name) are brutal; they show an absolute disgust, and a refusal to enter into her life, which is just as sad in its own as Emily's. Yates keeps mentioning that there's food stuck to her face while she eats, that her legs spread as she gets increasingly drunk, exposing the crotch of her panties; her daughters find her naked after she has passed out. It can be argued that at least some of this reflects Emily's own disgust for her mother, but sometimes I think Yates is just being cruel - shoving his disgust for these people in the reader's face.
When he bothers illuminating the characters' inner lives, and dramatizing their struggles, I think that such details can be a form of respect - an absolute determination to tell the truth about his characters' lives - but when he doesn't bother seeing inside them, continually describing the squalor of their lives makes it seem like he's going out of his way to humiliate them....more info
- Not good literature.
I liked Yate's novel "Revolutionary Road" very much, but found Easter Parade disappointing. Lots happens in a short book, and Yates exhibits the clean, simple prose style of a good crime writer. Looking back, at the end of the novel, I was touched by all the fruitless effort Emily Grimes had put into establishing a satisfying long term relationship, only to be thwarted by the limitations of the men in her life. Yet Yates is really writing about people, not making them come alive as well developed characters. When Emily turns her back on her sister, which should be a major event, it is almost casually dismissed. "The Easter Parade" is readable, but it is not good literature. ...more info
"The Easter Parade" focuses on sisters Emily and Sarah and gives us a window into their lives during a forty year period. Near the beginning of the novel, the sisters seem to have the world open before them, as Sarah marries a dashing Englishman, and Emily wins a scholarship to Barnard. We soon learn, however, that Sarah's husband beats his wife and that Emily is lonely and miserable, despite having a successful career. This novel deftly cuts into the reality that life often is. Yates' worldview is an often bleak and depressing one, which might be why his works have not received much critical attention. However, his superb writing style, his ability to draw vivid and unforgettable characters, and his insight into the human condition makes him a writer to become acquainted with. ...more info
- Powerful ...
I'm on a Yates roll these days and hope to read his bio next. This sister act told mostly through the younger Emily is a powerful and often painful lifelong look at how life (and lives) sometimes (probably more often than we'd like to admit) turn out. The powerful/dramatic open ending was masterful.
It's been a couple days since we lost Updike; we're all very blessed that writers like Yates and Updike left such great American novels for us.
So read them, amici ... highly recommended....more info
- A neglected talent
My God, how did Richard Yates fall between the cracks? This is an excellent novel, a compelling story told with seamless, word-perfect writing. Yet, as an avid reader of contemporary literature for at least 15 years now, I had not heard of Yates until very recently. After relishing "The Easter Parade," I intend to hunt down all of Yates' books. Which is not a simple task, since he's mostly out of print and hard to find even in the better used bookstores. "The Easter Parade" excels in at least two ways. First, it is extremely well written. Yates is not a flashy writer. His sentences are grammatically perfect and tightly crafted. There are no wasted or throwaway words. He stays out of the way of the story, which can be the hardest thing for a writer to do. Second, Yates crafts believable characters who live realistic, plausible lives. This could be a recipe for boring, but Yates deftly keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace, covering about 45 years in 225 pages. Here's hoping for a Richard Yates revival, akin to the recent resurgence of interest in Charles Portis....more info
- She was always misunderstood
"Easter Parade" follows sisters, Emily and Sarah Grimes, over forty years. They enter adulthood during WWII, and their lives follow tremendously different trajectories. Sarah is the traditional one: she marries early, has three children, and settles into a seemingly idyllic life in the countryside. Emily is more independent, and she experiences a series of unsatisfying intimate relationships and drifts through life. The novel chiefly concerns the relationship, or lack thereof, between the sisters and their family. The story climaxes in the 1960's with mild invocations of the women's liberation movement, and Yates draws clear parallels between the sisters and their times. Although the time period is specific, the characters remain amazingly relatable and universal.
The most exceptional aspect of Yates's writing is the effortlessness with which he encapsulates life: "The Easter Parade" is a relatively short novel - yet it's remarkably complete due to Yates's talent in creating scenes that so clearly recapitulate a particular period in the sisters' lives. Yates is best-known for his brilliant debut, "Revolutionary Road." His subsequent novels have received considerably less acclaim - an untenable situation considering the quality and exquisiteness of his writing. With "The Easter Parade" the story is simple but heart-breaking; the characters are unforgettable; the final epiphany is indisputable. Most highly recommended....more info
- Thin Book, Thin Plot
Some reviewers complain that the author presented 2-dimensional female characters--missing the fact that that was the whole point of the novel. Seldom do we meet actual 3-dimensional personalities in real life. Be honest! Most people you meet really are 2-dimensional . . . and that's the point of the novel. Empty people, vacuous lives. Unfortunately, it makes for uneventful, vapid reading. My main complaint is that the book--other than its attempt at character-sketching--doesn't really have a plot. And Yates' writing was brown-paper bag journalist prose. No metaphors, no creative imagery. Just plain bland. I mean, you can write a depressing book and make it fascinating--such as Knut Hamsun's "Hunger" or any of Dostoevsky's work. The only difference is that those authors had force of personality, scintillating prose, gripping psychological studies of exceptional people. So Yates should have had one of the other: a fast-moving, plot-based narrative, or brilliant writing. In this work, he had neither. He sets up two bland characters, gives them bland lives and leads the reader on a bland journey to an unfulfilling ending. It's no wonder he never sold more than 12,000 copies of any of his books. ...more info
- Great Writer but Female Characters are 2-dimensional
Mr. Yates has a way with words. Even when I read parts of his novels that do not ring true, I can not say that his writing is anything but excellent.
In this book, the story of 2 sisters - Emmy and Sarah - it seems like Mr. Yates was looking for answers as to why these two sisters are so different when both come from the same home and are the products of divorce.
Most of the book takes place in the late 1950's and early 1960's but Mr. Yates does not deal with any of the sociological changes that began at that time, resulting in the free-love movement, the Vietnam War, and the beginnings of feminism.
He refers to Emmy as a free-thinker. I searched for her 'real' character and found only the empty shell of a woman that Mr. Yates could have filled out and developed. He presents a woman who goes from one man to the next for no particular reason, puts up with a job she does not like (even though Barnard educated) for no particular reason and appears to have no true passions or interests or motivations in life. He attempts to portray Sarah as the opposite but instead, she too rings false. We see her only sporadiclally through the book and she is a 'victim' in the days before victimhood held any political value or was devalued.
All the women are alcoholics but he does not acknowledge the impact of addiction on their behavior. He attributes divorce as the reason for dysfunction. While I agree that divorce can have a huge impact on a developing child, so can alcoholic parents and so can active addiction.
He fleshes out the father and several of the male characters. He understands men. However, I think he finds women mysterious, unknowable, and this takes away from what could have been a much finer piece of literature....more info
- Both Depressing and Thought Provoking
In The Easter Parade, Richard Yates delivers a well-crafted and well-written novel with the bluntness and mercy of a rusty scalpel.
Yates allows us to follow the life of Emily Grimes all the way from childhood into her fifties. Her mother is a reckless, distracted woman who divorced Emily's father when Emily was just a child. Her older sister, Sarah, has a promising beginning but soon enters a marriage that is unsatisfying.
Believing herself to have escaped the dull lives of her sister and mother, Emily becomes a working woman throughout the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. She falls into one affair after another, moving on when the relationship becomes stale, and sometimes even endures one-night stands.
As she watches her mother and sister waste away, she believes she has made the right decision in what she's done with her life. The only problem is, she's largely unhappy throughout most of it.
And this is what's most troubling about Yates' book - no one seems content with their lives. I can only believe Yates' is either making a social statement or an observation about the American people, especially the "working class."
While The Easter Parade is a brief read, Yates composes elegant, yet frank, sentences that are smooth and enjoyable to read. This is quite a contrast when compared to the dark, moody content of those words.
The Easter Parade troubled me for another reason, however. Yates focuses primarily upon Emily Grimes - supposedly an independent woman. However, Grimes seems to be at the mercy of her male lovers throughout the entire novel, even defining herself by them in some cases. And while I don't want to spoil the ending of the novel, Yates eventually places Emily in a position that in no way utilizes the independence she prided herself upon throughout the work.
Ultimately, this means one of two things - Yates wanted to use a character that confused sovereignty with aloofness in order to illustrate the danger of missing out on life for fear of being strangled by it, or he ultimately doesn't believe women can truly operate at an autonomous level.
Whatever the case, this bleak, expertly written novel is both depressing and thought provoking.
~Scott William Foley, author of Souls Triumphant...more info
Sad, strong and unsparing. The story of two girls and where their lives take them. All about what people do to each other. Like a boxer that won't go down, the story just keeps swinging....more info
- Great Premise But A Disappointing Result
Richard Yates is one of those authors who seem to have fallen off the radar screen. In fact, I only came to this book because it was a selection of one of my online book clubs. While family dysfunction has proven the grist for many a great book, this is not one of them. The main problem is simple: the author doesn't seem to have any interest in or -- perhaps even worse -- any real talent for exploring the inner lives of his characters. This is particularly troublesome here because Yates chooses to focus on the lives of two sisters. This is not to say that male authors cannot succeed in plumbing the psyches of female characters (Ian McEwan's astounding "Atonement" springs to mind), but Yates' refusal to go beyond the surface results in an uncomfortable -- almost prurient -- focus on their sex lives. About the only positive thing I can say about The Easter Parade is that -- given the spareness of Yates' prose -- it reads quite quickly....more info
- Yates at His Best
It's difficult to say which of the novels of Richard Yates is his best, but I think, at least for now, EASTER PARADE might be my favorite. It tells the story of two sisters who, we learn in the first sentence, will lead unhappy lives. Yates is an expert craftsman; his sentences are clean and pure; his transitions are smooth. Yates was a hateful man, apparently, judging from the recent biography, and sometimes this smallness of character invades his fiction, but that shortcoming is mostly absent here, except perhaps in the misogynist rant of an impotent man against his wife ("I hate your body!"). Yates doesn't hold back; he pretty much tells you how to feel about his characters, most of whom are sad cases: in addition to the two unhappy sisters, there is a failed newspaper editor; a failed poet; a drunken and abusive husband; a drunken and pathetic mother; etc. Along with his short fiction and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, EASTER PARADE is Yates at his best. ...more info
- Well written novel
I was so lucky to find this book at a library book sale recently. I was not familiar with Yates' work prior to this, and now I'm reading "Revolutionary Road." Unfortunately Yates lived so unhappily in his final years. His writing, on the surface, seems simple and uncomplicated, but before you know it you are engrossed in his settings and characters....more info
- This is the other book by Yates that everyone should read.
The Easter Parade is almost as good as Revolutionary Road. It is almost as grim as RR, but there is a ray of hope at the end. I highly recommend this book and I would urge everyone to read everything by Yates that they can get they can get their hands on. I would also recomend that the reader go to Stewart O'Nan.com and read his essay "The Lost World of Richard Yates."...more info
- A suicide note from the world of Richard Yates
In unpitying prose that would have shriveled the eyeballs right out of the head of the happy-go-lucky Marquis de Sade, Richard Yates breezes through half a century in 229 pages as he chronicles for us the endless and meaningless stupidity of human existence. The Grimes Family will never rise above the chronic alcoholism and mental illness they have inherited, but they go through all of the circumlocutions of 20th-century American life in the certitude that the better day of the American dream lies just around the corner of the next wife-beating, the next meaningless sexual episode, the next tray of cocktails, the next visit to the nuthouse to visit Mom.
Throughout all these efforts, they seem unaware that their family hit its high point during an Easter parade in 1941, when Sarah and Tony, all dressed up, were photographed for the front page of the New York Daily News. If it weren't for the fortuitous presence of the photographer, even this achievement would have never materialized for them.
Yates' narrative voice is completely accomplished, functioning like that of a dishonest uncle who knows every scandal of the family, but is going to let you in on each of the traumas only gradually, one horrible revelation every five years or so. Thus, the narration is itself every bit as alcoholically ill as the family it is describing. When toothless Sarah Wilson, too drunk to get off the couch and looking 20 years older than she should, has to ask one of her sons to bring her a glass of gin, I felt like slipping her a note with the address of the local AA group and then kicking her all the way down the road to the meeting.
But there is no way Sarah Wilson could know where the AA meeting was, because her creator, Richard Yates, apparently didn't know where it was either. There is no moral fault in any of this, but it does serve to remind us that the fates of Yates' people, like the fate of Yates himself, was by no means inevitable.
And so this story is not about all of us, thank God. It might only be about most Americans--deluded, alcoholic, lonely, living for the manifest destiny that never arrives. But that doesn't include me. I enjoyed my visit to the world of Richard Yates--he made me care about his people and the terrible choices they were making--but I was relieved when that visit was over and I didn't have to listen to the next deranged sentence to come out of the mouth of the mentally ill Emily Grimes.
In other words, you don't have to die drunk in the insane asylum if you don't want to. ...more info