Author: Richard Yates
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: January 1, 2004
Source: Personal Copy
During a trip to my favorite used bookstore, I came across a paperback copy of The Easter Parade in the bargain section. All I knew of Richard Yates before beginning this book was his reputation for writing about middle-class suburbia. While I haven't read his most popular book, I did see the movie Revolutionary Road, so I had an idea of what to expect. Plus, the cost was only $.75, which I just couldn't pass up. My decision was completely validated after finishing the whole thing Friday.
Starting from the 1940s, The Easter Parade is a heartbreaking tale of two sisters and the ups and downs in their lives over the span of forty years. Emily and Sarah's adolescence is spent dealing with the divorce of their parents: the flaky and erratic 'Pookie" and the alcoholic and absentee Walter. From here the lives of these two different personalities take very divergent paths. Sarah becomes a traditional suburban wife and mother at an early age, while Emily focuses on her career and a string of men who never quite seem to fit. Although they make different choices, both want to find the elusive state of happiness. Yates creates a intricate story about the regret, resignation, and repression that afflict the Grimes family.
'I don't get it,' Emily said.
'Oh, Emmy,' Sarah said. 'How many people know what "capitulate" means?'
'Do you know what it means?'
Sarah blinked. 'Well, but I mean how many other people do? And for a daily newspaper that's supposed to reach millions of people - I don't know; I thought it was funny, that's all.'
Most of the narrative stays with Emily, but there are moments when glimpses of Sarah's life are revealed. Some of the most compelling scenes involved the interaction between the two sisters. Yates does an excellent job conveying the envy and pity these two hold for each other. Both seem unsatisfied with their own situations and long to be in the other's shoes. The portrayal of the relationship between the women is very realistic, and I think many siblings feel this way to some degree. There is very much a presentation of opposing views of womanhood, wife/mother vs the single career girl, and the few males that are in the narrative are relatively weak.
School was the center of [Emily's] life. She had never heard the word 'intellectual' used as a noun before she went to Barnard and she took it to heart. It was a brave noun, a proud noun, a noun suggesting lifelong dedication to lofty things and a cool disdain for the commonplace."
After finishing The Easter Parade, I can see why Yates is considered a master of telling the unsentimental story of the small middle-class life. He is one of the few authors that can create a full story in so few pages. The prose is very succinct, and hits it's mark perfectly tackling issues of alcoholism, life dissatisfaction, and dysfunctional families with such emotional depth. At the heart of the story is the failure of the American Dream.