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.

20 comments:

  1. Sounds very good! Though obviously a totally different thing, that opening sentence makes me think of Lemony Snicket and his Unfortunate Events. (c:

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  2. Yates is obviously not a very cheery soul. I found Rev Road unbearably sad but you do need to read the book to really understand, so now I will buy both and see how I go. xoxo

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  3. Great review-I think I will have to read my 1st Yates soon-maybe starting with Revolutionary Road

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  4. Great review. I checked two bookstores this week and neither had this book! Revolutionary Road is the only Yates I've read and, thanks to Rachel's review, I decided to make this the second. Had no idea it would be so hard to find.

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  5. That opening sentence - what a way to start a book! I also am inspired to read some Yates from all the reviews over at Book Snob. I'm thinking about Revolutionary Road - I figure I've seen the movie so maybe I'll sort of know what to expect from it? Definitely need to get to it soon!

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  6. I've been wanting to read Yates, too, for some time but particularly since Rachel has been posting on his work! If I didn't have too many books already on the go I would grab one to start now! I will add this one to my wishlist!

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  7. The first sentence makes me want to read more. And that cover is so ironic.

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  8. I've only read one Yates book, which was Revolutionary Road, and against my expectations, I enjoyed it a lot. Whereas the movie was just too miserable for me. Glad you enjoyed this one - I need to try some more Yates!

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  9. @Mel - I think you'll enjoy Yates.

    @JoAnn - I hope you get a copy soon.

    @Jenny - Many people enjoyed the film. Interesting to find someone else who thought it was so miserable. Apparently the book ends with a hopeful note and I guess that was difficult to portray on film.

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  10. Through the wringer - that is such a good phrase to use with Yates writing.

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  11. I'm so glad that you read this and enjoyed it - though I supposed 'enjoyed' is not really the right word for describing the feeling of reading a Yates novel, is it? Perhaps appreciated would be better! I hope you do go on to read Revolutionary Road - there is so much more to the book than there is in the film, as brilliant as the film is.

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  12. @booksnob - Rachel, appreciated is the right word. I'd love to read more Yates in the future. Thanks for bringing him to our attention.

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  13. Wow! Great review! I've never read a book by Yates, but I know I'm going to now. And Easter Parade is the first one on the list. Thanks! Sounds like such an interesting read and I love the fact that he doesn't mince words and that his prose is simple - I agree completely that big words do not equal an excellent writer.

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  14. I'm one of those rare readers who didn't LOVE Revolutionary Road, BUT having read the book and seen the movie, as good as the movie is, it really doesn't capture the richness of the book at all. There's just so much psychological depth and full inner life for all the characters, that it's pretty much impossible for the film to capture that, so I would suggest reading the book if you enjoyed the film.

    I actually have a copy of this one, and while I find Yates a challenging author because of his subject matter, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm so glad to hear you found it so rewarding!

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  15. Yates seems to be the one for most depressing books. I didn't have the courage to try Revolutionary Road, so I'm not too sure of this one either. Thanks for the review though! :)

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  16. The way you describe this kind of reminds me of John Cheever, who I really love despite this pessimism. He didn't seem to ever write about anything other than suburban misery, yet his stories really draw me in. Adding Yates to my list.

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  17. If Rachel hadn't already convinced me to read this then you certainly would have! A lovely, thoughtful review that has enticed me to experience Yates' simple and emotionally-charged writing.

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  18. Yikes, it does sound like a bit of a downer. It does have a lovely cover though!

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  19. I have an award for you! :)
    http://atpemberley.blogspot.com/2010/02/awards-updates.html

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  20. That first sentence is very eye catching isn't it? I read this book a few years ago and loved it too. My copy had a different cover, but showed two happy girls on it as well, very misleading. Great review!

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