The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
Release Date: May 4, 2001 (first published 1976)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: Revolutionary Road is the only book by Richard Yates I've read until now. I thought it was such a captivating, well-written and thought-provoking book that I've always wanted to read more by Yates. I was fortunate to win two novels by Richard Yates in a giveaway at Bibliophile by the Sea, The Easter Parade and Disturbing the Peace! The Easter Parade is beautifully bleak and depressing as Yates, in his simple, bare-bones, honest prose style explores themes such as self-delusion, identity, regret, loss and loyalty.
Yates tells us on the first page, in the first line even, that neither Emily nor Sarah will have a happy life and suggests the problems may have begun with their parents' divorce in 1930 when the girls were still very young. Their parents never really explain the situation between them or the divorce to the girls. Sarah and Emily don't see their father very much and their mother is filled with plans for her independence that never come to fruition. She flits from one career to the next never finding something she enjoys or wants to do. She moves Sarah and Emily to a new home every few years and wants them to call her 'Pookie'. While the girls are still young, it becomes clear that the older Sarah is the very pretty, more social sister, while Emily is the smart one who is practical, insecure and also a worrier.
Sarah and Emily learn from living with Pookie and listening to her that she fantasizes about life and treats her fantasies as fact. They learn not to trust anything Pookie says. She's their mother, though, so they still want her approval. Sarah marries an attractive, charming man, Tony Wilson, approved of by both her parents, particularly Pookie. Pookie is quite taken with the entire Wilson family and fancies herself attached to Tony's married father. Tony turns out to be a blockhead and a drinker and Sarah finds herself stuck out on the North Shore of Long Island on an 8-acre estate in disrepair owned by Tony's family. It's not the glamorous life Sarah expected but she's learned from her mother to make her life sound better than it is. Disillusionment and despair become part of Sarah's life well before she's thirty. She deals with it by drinking like Tony and Pookie.
Emily, whose point of view the third person narrator focuses on, is a character many of us can identify with and recognize. She gets her college degree from Barnard, takes a job in an advertising firm in Manhattan and moves into an apartment in the city. Emily also begins dating. But she's unable to find a man or a job that truly makes her happy. She has a series of boyfriends and several different advertising jobs. Emily convinces herself she's happy for a while but always tires of the man she's dating after believing he's the one. She eventually feels the same despair for her work. She also tries writing an article several times about being a single woman in the city at that time but can't face the truth of the situation. She thinks she wants love, success, safety but she's never satisfied. Emily doesn't appear to know what she wants or who she is.
Yates characters in The Easter Parade are average people familiar to us. They don't know how to go out and make their lives what they want them to be. We hope Emily will learn from the example her family set for her with their sad, pathetic lives. Emily's insecure which we see when Emily learns in college that she's more intelligent than Sarah and it makes her feel as if she's betrayed her sister and in her general avoidance of Sarah. But Emily is also hopeful about what life has to offer. We root for her to create a life that will make her happy even when we know her hope is waning. The question is does Emily know what will make her happy?
This book, like Revolutionary Road, presents a bleak view of middle class life. Yates' narrative style doesn't include sentimentality or melodrama. He tells it like it is with no flowery or unnecessary language. I don't expect Pookie would care much for his style! It's elegant and simple in its sparseness and it sticks with you. Yates leaves us thinking about our own lives and if we have created something we can be proud of and enjoy. I highly recommend you read The Easter Parade and decide for yourself!