The Easter parade : a novel

by Richard Yates

Hardcover, 1976





New York : Delacorte Press, c1976.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member BeckyJG
"Human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience."
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."
Woody Allen

"Life sucks and then you die."
bumper sticker

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.
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
After reading Revolutionary Road I was keen to read more from this author. This story is about two sisters whose lives we follow over four decades. They become very different women, one settles into an unhappy marriage and the other although quite successful in her career as a copywriter goes from one bad relationship to another. They both live in the shadow of their mother and try as they may they both end up in desperate situations. Well written but sad tale.… (more)
LibraryThing member alpin
I missed Richard Yates the first time around, in the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, so did almost every one else. Despite critical acclaim – Revolutionary Road, his first and arguably greatest novel, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1962 – Yates never achieved wide popularity. We have the recent movie of Revolutionary Road to thank for finally – long after Yates’s death in 1992 – landing the book on the best seller list and bringing his other works to our attention.

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.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
This is my second Yates book, and I'm delighted to say I loved it every bit as much as Revolutionary Road, if not more. I don't know what it is about Yates, but I just love, love, LOVE his writing. I also enjoy Updike who writes in a similar sort of style, but I think Yates is a little softer around the edges and his prose is tighter.

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.
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LibraryThing member klmorr
I hated this book. I kept hoping the plot would get better, but it never does. It's too sexually explicit for me. I would rate this a
(- 3) if I could.
LibraryThing member cabegley
Richard Yates' The Easter Parade follows the very lives of the two Grimes sisters--Emily, the divorced career woman, and Sarah, the suburban housewife. Yates is, at least, upfront about what to expect, beginning his tale with the warning that "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life," and he certainlly fulfills that promise. Emily drifts from one affair to the next, successful in her career but unsuccessful in love (and happiness), while Sarah is anchored in an unhappy marriage. Both women, like their ineffective mother before them, eventually drown their unhappiness in a sea of alcohol.

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.
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LibraryThing member mpmills
The first line of this novel sums up the book, "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed the trouble began with their parent's divorce." Sarah and Emily Grimes grew up during the 30s and 40s. Their alcoholic mother, Pookie, constantly moved them from place to place. Sarah took the more traditional role for the times and settled into an unhappy marriage. Emily graduated from college. became a copywriter, and went from one bad relationship to another. It was a bleak, sad novel, but well worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member tonyshaw14
I love the way Yates anatomizes things, such as the futility, destructiveness and ugliness of alcoholism. In just a few pages, Yates conveys a few of the problems that Pookie has:

'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.
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LibraryThing member KromesTomes
Spoiler alert

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.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
This was very interesting, but something a little melodramatic did not ring quite right. I cared about the characters, but I did not feel prepared for the ending.
LibraryThing member spurnell
A short and compelling read that follows two sisters through the events of their lives. Melancholy in a wonderful way. I really enjoyed the story and immediately went out and purchased Revolutionary Road. Hope it lives up to The Easter Parade.
LibraryThing member drugfiend
This is a really fine book, Yates´ characters are so human (for a lack of a better word). I've read 5 books by Yates now, and they are all very, very good.
LibraryThing member bnbooklady
After reading and loving Yates's Revolutionary Road, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book. I've picked it up and put it down a few times now, and I think the timing just hasn't been right yet. You know how that is. I think I'll do some lighter reading and pick this up yet again when I'm ready for a thinker.
LibraryThing member marcyjill
It's all about the writing.

"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.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I saw 'Revolutionary Road' at the cinema, and was impressed as well as mildly depressed by it. 'The Easter Parade' is my first experience of reading Yates, and I have to say that it is an excellent book. Yates has a way of writing about unhappy women that makes them sympathetic but approachable characters.

'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.… (more)
LibraryThing member traumleben
If you're looking for light hearted, happy-go-lucky tales that end with a smile, steer clear of Richard Yates. He's a serious writer who wasn't afraid of shining the light on uncomfortable subjects. In The Easter Parade, a story of two sisters who take separate, rocky paths in search of happiness, Yates makes very real the challenges of divorce, parenting, dating, sex in the days of "pre-liberation," alcoholism, domestic violence, and mental illness. Yates is a master of capturing the wrenching and at times painful emotions woven through all of those subjects, which many found difficult to discuss; certainly during the time period covered in this book, 1940s to 1970s. Don't read this book as any kind of curative, but if you've struggled finding Mr/Ms Right, felt lost, waded through a less than ideal life, you may find a little kinship with the Grimes sisters. Once you start, Yates will certainly draw you in with engaging dialog and his clear observations on the human condition.… (more)
LibraryThing member johnbakeronline
The Easter Parade by Richard Yates was good right to the last sentence. It's a beautifully crafted novel and deserves a much wider audience.
LibraryThing member Adayinthelife
The Easter Parade is just as excellently written and seemingly effortlessly crafted as anything else out of Richard Yates catalogue. In all of Yates short stories and novels the characters are densely vacuum-packed and isolated in the suburban US 1950's and manifest only as a haunting memory which the author is unable and unwilling to let go of. The Easter Parade, just like all other works, is intriguing all the way through and ultimately hopeless; it offers the reader no consolation and the story, although absurd in its endlessly negative partiality, lingers and floats around me for a long time. I more or less take the hollow nature and the broken dreams of the characters personally, as an affront or a mockery to my own soul and/or life. It is only with the realisation that the undoubtedly gifted Yates writes solely out of therapeutic reasons or perhaps for tormenting himself and future readers that I am able to move on and see through Yates instigations merely as an attempt to redeem himself. The characters, lonesome and defeated as they are, have only been illuminated in the dim light of Yates own sadness and shattered dreams and therefore the moments of joy, tenderness and fulfilment in their lives are not missing because they do not exist but rather they are missing because Yates is unwilling to show them.… (more)
LibraryThing member betsytacy
Richard Yates is a writer whose name crops up repeatedly on lists of unjustly forgotten authors. One can only hope that the film version of his masterpiece, Revolutionary Road, will cause people to seek out his other works, including The Easter Parade (first published in 1976). In The Easter Parade, Yates tells a story of two sisters, Sarah and Emily Grimes, that spans 40 years, beginning with their parents’ divorce in 1930. It is a bleak story; Yates’s opening line is “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life.” Each sister grows up to personify one of the mid-century archetypes of a woman’s life—and yet there is an ugly reality beneath the image each carefully cultivates. Sarah’s unhappy marriage and constant scrabbling to pay the bills belies the perfect “Leave it to Beaver” housewife she would like the world to see, and Emily starts off as the Doris Day “career girl,” but the lovers leave and she is all alone. The Easter Parade is a devastating and powerful novel that is well worth seeking out.… (more)
LibraryThing member oldblack
Reading this 1976 book in 2011 was a slightly odd experience for me. It was partly like reading an historical novel (some of the book relates to the war years), and yet part of the book is set in the time of my youth. From that perspective, I found myself feeling somewhat detached as I read the book, not engaging as much as perhaps I might if the book were set in the 21st century and involved older people, like me. One reason for the reader's detachment is Yates' style of writing, in which the characters don't talk a lot about their thoughts and feelings. There is a lot of description of events from a more impersonal perspective. Nonetheless, I found this book to be really worthwhile reading and I did get to know the characters quite well. As in his other books, Yates does not seem to look especially favourably upon the institution that is the American marriage & family. That's fair enough, isn't it?… (more)
LibraryThing member otterley
It's a wonderful book; heart breaking and gripping. Yates writes brilliantly about the sadness and suffocation in some women's lives - and the excitement of the banal
LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
the story of two very different sisters and their lives. it was sad, but a good sad, the kind that makes you sit back and think about life and love and family.
LibraryThing member debnance
The Easter Parade is the story of two sisters, Sarah and Emily. I don't often like male authors,but Yates is an exception, themale author who writes like awoman. This book is as sharp and painful at times as only real life can be. Recommended.
LibraryThing member papercat
The Easter Parade tells the story of the very different lives of two sisters, Sarah and Emily. Their childhood is spent with their overbearing mother, Pookie, with occasional visits from their distant father. Sarah grows up to lead the apparently perfect life of a 1950s housewife and mother, but her husband turns out to be abusive and violent. Emily has a career and a more adventurous life in the city, but this life also brings loneliness and a series of relationships that are often painful or unfulfilling.

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.
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
This older finely-written novel, originally published in 1976, is outstandingly depressing and tells about two girls growing up in a extremely troubled family. After one sister dies, the surviving (more together) sister observes: "Yes, I'm tired," she said. "And do you known a funny thing? I'm almost fifty years old and I've never understood anything in my whole life."
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.
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