Monday, February 22, 2010
The Easter Parade
I feel like I've just been through the wringer with this book, The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. It's gut-wrenching and sad. From its opening sentence you know this isn't going to be a cheerful story, "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce."
In spite of that pessimistic first sentence you can see how quickly Yates can just draw you in. You just can't stop reading on. He has a reputation for sad and depressing novels so I knew what I was getting into. Rachel at Book Snob recently hosted a Richard Yates season and my interest was piqued. My only experience with him had been seeing the film Revolutionary Road, a movie I found quite distressing and even unpleasant at times. I certainly didn't want to delve into that book so I asked Rachel to recommend a good place to start with Yates and she mentioned The Easter Parade. I love the cover of this Vintage edition but it is misleading, showing two lovely girls who are obviously happy and having a good time. It's quite contradictory to their actual story.
The Grimes sisters are separated by four years and grow up in various suburbs of New York with their divorced mother. They see their 'newspaper man' father once in a while and on the surface they seem to be quite well-adjusted and normal girls. Beautiful Sarah skips college and goes on to marry an English man who resembles Laurence Olivier. She bears three sons and appears to have a happy and quaint existence. Plain Emily in contrast goes on to get a scholarship from Barnard and have a stable and promising career. However, she never finds the right man and moves from one affair to the next. We follow Emily's life more closely and feel her depression and sorrow when another one of her love affairs fails. Her older sister is more in the background since she seems quite fulfilled but towards the end of the novel we realise that all is not what it seems with Sarah.
This novel offers a microscopic view of two average girls and their search for their little piece of happiness in this world. It's also the story of their own relationship with each other which is one of love, rivalry and jealousy. Each one believes the other to have the more wonderful life. It's ultimately sad to realise that actually neither of them had it.
I'm amazed at how quickly I finished the novel. The pages just flew by and before I'd known it, I'd reached the end of this quiet masterpiece. Yates doesn't mince words. His prose is simple, his sentences are basic and uncomplicated. This just goes to show that you don't have to use big words to be a master writer. I loved the realism of this story, the descriptions and the dialogue. This won't be my last Yates novel but I think I'll need some time before picking up another one. And yes, I may even read Revolutionary Road. I realise that having never read the book, I may have missed so many things in the movie version.