Even as little girls, Sarah and Emily are very different from each other. Emily looks up to her wiser and more stable older sister and is jealous of her relationship with their absent father, and later her seemingly golden marriage. The path she chooses for herself is less safe and conventional and her love affairs never really satisfy her. Although the bond between them endures, gradually the distance between the two women grows, until a tragic event throws their relationship into focus one last time. Richard Yates's masterful novel follows the two sisters from their childhood in the 1920s through the challenges of their adult choices, and depicts the different ways they seek to escape from their tarnished family past.
Alfred North Whitehead
"Life is like an onion: you peel off layer after layer
and then you find there is nothing in it."
James Gibbons Hunter
"Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable."
"Life sucks and then you die."
Richard Yates opens Easter Parade, his great novel of the futility of modern life, "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce." Sarah and Emily are the Grimes sisters, growing up in the thirties and forties when divorce was far less commonplace than it is now. Their mother, whom they call Pookie, has moved the girls from the city to the suburbs. There they will spend their childhood and adolescence, moving from home to home, town to town, as Pookie false starts and fails at job after job.
At first, despite their sordid circumstances, there is such promise. Sarah emerges from childhood a great beauty. Emily is intelligent and will go to college to become a writer. But both will end up defining their lives, in one way or another, by the men around them.
Sarah will marry young and we will watch in horror as all the life is sucked out of her by the choices she's made. Emily will make a successful career for herself but will stumble from one love affair to another, never finding happiness, satisfaction, or even contentment.
Both will drink too much, as will nearly every other character, major or minor, in the novel.
Easter Parade is bleak and clear-eyed, gorgeously written in simple, spare language. You'll be charmed by the Grimes sisters' spirits and frequent optimism, even as you're horrified by how their choices--sometimes offhand, sometimes well thought-out--can go so wrong. You may love this novel, and you may very well hate it, but you will probably not be indifferent to it.
The Easter Parade, like Revolutionary Road, is a searing portrayal of two seemingly ordinary people who might have been expected to lead ordinary but reasonably happy lives. But there aren’t any happy lives in Richard Yates novels, at least not in these two books. His characters all reflect aspects of his own tragic life – unfulfilled promise, the fear of mediocrity, alcoholism, madness. Sarah and Emily Grimes are children of divorce, brought up primarily by a delusional, unstable mother. Sarah, the pretty one, marries young, quickly has three sons and endures an increasingly abusive marriage. Emily, the smart one, goes to college and drifts from job to job and from one failed relationship to another.
There’s not much in the way of plot in The Easter Parade. Unlike Revolutionary Road, in which the primary action takes place in only a few months and which hurtles headlong toward inevitable catastrophe, The Easter Parade spans four decades and Yates’s precise, spare prose lets his characters’ lives unfold with more clarity than you might think possible in only 225 pages. Reading Revolutionary Road, I thought Yates had brilliantly captured the social milieu of 1950’s suburbia and the stultifying business lives of that era’s young corporate lions. Reading The Easter Parade, I was equally in awe of the accuracy of the portrayal of a young (and later, not so young) “career woman” in New York City in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Yates wasn’t a creative stylist; he wrote straightforward sentences with not a word wasted. And his eye for detail and ear for dialogue are uncanny. The Easter Parade is simple and simply brilliant.
Easter Parade tells the story of 2 sisters as they grow up, both leading dysfunctional lives but in very different ways. One conforms to the steady path of marriage and children, and is hell-bent on keeping to that road even though she pays a terrible price for it. The younger sister goes the other way - a career girl with many lovers, she also struggles to find happiness but for very different reasons.
If circumstances had allowed I could have easily devoured this in one sitting without ever stopping. Yates' stories are always melancholy, but I fall in love with his vivid, damaged characters every time, and his writing never loses pace. I find myself racing towards the end but hoping I don't quite get there for a little while longer.
It just has to be 5 stars. What can I say - I love this guy's books.
I will have to space out his remaining books or I will cry when I get to the last one.
(- 3) if I could.
Emily, the main focus of the story, has broken out of the traditional female mold, and is so severely punished for her life choices that It is tempting to call Yates anti-feminist. However, Sarah, the little housewife, fares no better. Yates also gets called out for his misogyny, but really his men tend to be no better, and no happier, than his women. The Easter Parade is dark, sad, and hopeless, but while I walked away from it needing a shower to wash the despair away, I would still recommend it. Yates' writing is spare and truthful, and it packs a powerful punch.
'Geoffrey Wilson had invited them over to the main house for a drink, and Pookie kept watching the clock: she didn't want to be late.'
What we might call the anxiety of being under the influence.
Pookie's daughter watches her mother:
'Emily [...] could watch her face loosen as she talked and drank, watch her knees move farther apart until they revealed the gartered tops of her stockings, the shadowed, sagging insides of her naked thighs and finally the crotch of her underpants. '
Out of the drinking context, and without the word 'sagging', this could almost have been erotic. Instead, Yates makes it look as its supposed to look: sordid and degrading.
And Yates piles it on as they travel back home:
'She knew Pookie would sleep on the train - she hoped she would, anyway; it would be better than if she stayed awake and talked - and their dinner, if they had any, would be a hotdog and coffee in Penn Station.'
Another interesting point about the second quotation is the way Yates objectifies Pookie, uglifies her. This is Pookie as uninviting flesh. Looking at the exterior gives us a ringside view of the interior. Yuck.
After reading and loving Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, I was pretty geeked to get a copy of The Easter Parade through LT’s early reviewers’ group. I love a good story about suburban angst as much as anybody, but that’s not really what The Easter Parade delivers.
Instead, I couldn’t help but read the novel as a misogynistic parable about what happens to women who don’t marry into traditional, suburban households.
Following a divorce in the 1930s, “Pookie” Grimes wanders the wastelands of New York suburbia with her daughters, unable to accomplish much for herself except develop a chronic drinking problem. She eventually goes mad, gets “hospitalized” and dies after years of commitment.
Elder daughter Sarah, the “pretty one,” marries and has three kids, but her husband, who we’re reminded, never graduated college, abuses her both physically and mentally. In fact, when she dies, it’s not entirely clear whether it’s from cirrhosis (brought on by her own drinking problem) or from a beating at the hands of her husband.
Younger daughter and main character Emily has one sordid affair after another, forever hooking up with losers and liars, and never marrying. In a telling scene, she’s been out of work for nearly a year and desperately lonely. When she calls up an old friend and gets invited to a small party, Emily’s first thought is that there might be a man there for her.
The section focusing on Emily’s love life must have been even more shocking when the novel was first written, with the kind of casual, oft-drunken sex that is, if not more commonplace now, then at least more written about now. Which makes Emily’s life an even starker comment on the inability of single women to be happy without marriage.
As disappointment follows disappointment for Emily, there is another scene in which she comes across a photo of her sister that had appeared in the newspaper when the latter was in her late teens. Sarah was dressed up for the local Easter parade, and is posing with her nattily attired boyfriend, the guy who would eventually become her husband. To Emily, the picture represents some kind of apotheosis of happiness.
And at the end of the book, alone and out of work, she turns to one of her nephews, an Episcopalian minister, for solace—and finds it. Which brings up the most troubling part of the novel for me.
Despite an anti-suburban rant from Emily to the nephew as he’s driving her to his home, the fact is that the only place she can find any release from her bitterly disappointing life is in a suburban setting with perhaps the most traditional kind of family there is: a minister, his happy wife, and young children. And she acknowledges this.
I also have to toss in here a quibble about the way Yates handles Emily’s job. At one point, she has a steady, relatively secure position as a copywriter in an ad agency, but she mysteriously loses her writing ability, eventually gets fired, and then can’t get another job. It just seemed like an especially unlikely situation that was crafted solely to make Emily appear more desperate at the end of the novel.
(Admittedly, squinting between the lines hard enough, it’s barely possible that Yates was implying Emily was fired after rejecting her female boss’ advances.)
Frankly, this seemed like second-rate work from Yates.
"The Easter Parade" is bleak to the point of almost being without any hope, but I couldn't put it down. I am sure that in the hand's of less-talented writer, this would have been a maudlin story, but in this case Richard Yates has created a beautifully crafted work of art. His characters linger in your heart and mind.
It is a compelling story of two sisters who lives are both stunted and destroyed by false hope, by alcohol and by simple circumstances. Reading it was a strange experience because despite the characters' sad, painful lives and experiences that made me want to turn away, the story was completely engrossing. The concise style moves this relatively short book along rapidly, yet you feel like you've understood every detail of the 40 plus years in these women's lives.
It seems that neither sister was capable of escaping their fate of unhappiness no matter what they tried. From the opening sentence "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life..." to the last painful moment, there is no relief, but if you look closely it does end with a spec of hope for the future generation. A hope for ending the family legacy of miser. It is a bit like applying a band-aid to a broken leg by the time it appears, but this quiet little upswing leaves you with a lot to think about.
'The Easter Parade' follows the lives and shifting fortunes of two sisters, and the men they love. Sadly, neither finds true happiness along the way, but then the story would have lost some of itself had that been the case.
I loved this book for its ironic humour and the understated style, which somehow conveys the sadness of the characters’ lives and only makes its emotional impact greater. The extremely realistic, often comic characterization and dialogue show the author’s huge gift for observation and I sympathised completely with Emily’s aspirations and disillusionments (the book is mostly written from her point of view). The book interestingly portrays the relationship between the two sisters, which includes rivalry but also an affection and closeness which they rarely express. I feel the book also suggests how easy it is to drift through life not really understanding the meaning or implications of what we do. Although it is undeniably bleak, I find this book exhilarating for its unrestrained exploration of the disappointments and pain of life, and for its beautiful writing, especially the perfect final scene.
Richard Yates is known best for his novel Revolutionary Road -- the film version starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. He is also known for being a dark man himself, one who lead a very troubled life of his own. I read Blake Bailey's biography of Yates, A Tragic Honesty, years ago, and it became so obvious that he was writing what he knew. The troubled, mostly middle-class, constantly drinking and smoking people that filled his books lived in the Yate's world.
The two sisters in the book are very distinctive, and their lives take them in very different directions. The writing seems simple and direct, as Yates describes the decisions they each make, but there is a brutal side to the book when he reveals the heartache and the violence around the suburban sister, Sarah, and her unhappy marriage. Her sister, Emily is a much more independent woman, always worked in the city, and had many lovers and relationships, but her life has many problems of its own.
The storyline still swirls around in my mind. It took me many years to finally read this novel, and I agree with Joan Didion, when she declared it to be her favorite Yate's novel. His fiction is painful to read, but the writing always reveals itself to be so well crafted and worth it.