After reading Revolutionary Road last year, I put Yates’ complete works on my tbr list, it made such an impact. It’s taken me nearly a year though, to read The Easter Parade. I have to admit I was a bit worried that Revolutionary Road was Yates’ masterpiece and that all his other works would pale in comparison, but I needn’t have worried, The Easter Parade is just as impressive.
The Easter Parade follows the lives of two sisters, Sarah and Emily Grimes, over four decades, from the thirties to the seventies. The sisters live with their mother Pookie, a flaky alcoholic, who moves them from small town to small town. Their father Walter is a lonely and unhappy copy desk man, and they only see him occasionally since their parent’s divorce. Both Sarah and Emily are determined to live their lives differently than their mother, and make it happy and a success. While Sarah marries young and settles with her husband and three sons into suburban middle-class life, Emily attends college and becomes a free-spirited career woman in the city, with a string of relationships that never last. Although Sarah and Emily were close as children, they drift more and more apart, as their lives take very different directions. On the surface, the life of the other sister always seems much happier and successful, but Sarah’s marriage is marked by violence and alcohol, and she becomes more like Pookie every year. Emily’s freedom and career in New York seem dazzling by comparison, but Emily can never form any lasting attachments and comes to be very lonely.
Like Revolutionary Road, this novel is marked by resignation and sadness. Whatever Sarah and Emily strive for, they end up disappointed. Yates chronicles small middle-class lives and always, the failure of the American dream. Characterization with Yates seems flawless, I have never encountered more fully rounded characters in fiction. Yates practically dissects their needs and ambitions, but he does so with care. And it is not just the main characters whose unhappiness and vulnerability are starkly drawn. Dialogue, descriptions, and facial expressions especially create sad scenes that cut to the heart:
He was forty-three years old, but at that moment his face looked as helpless as a child’s. “You still like me?” he asked.
“Oh, of course,” she told him, and busied herself with her raincoat.
While the novel tells the biographies of both Emily and Sarah, the narrative stays with Emily for the most part, and the reader comes to know her intimately. Emily yearns for love and closeness, but at the same time, she feels suffocated by relationships. It is likely the reason why she chooses men who are never quite available or without problems which are guaranteed to break their relationship. In the end, she is perhaps luckier than Sarah, but not much. The effect of the sisters’ fate is brutal, and it is perhaps surprising how much one can enjoy reading a novel that is so unrelentingly sad. As I suspected, this will not be my last Yates.
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!