Strengths: Yates writes beautifully, communicating emotion in few words.
Weaknesses: Not always happy, but true to life.
Why I read it: I’ve really enjoyed his other works (so much so that I’ve searched bookshops around the world for a complete set).
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Rating: 9 out of 10
If you liked this, try: Other Richard Yates books, such as Revolutionary Road.
I always enjoy Richard Yates’ books and know that I can be guaranteed a well-written, sensitive narrative that doesn’t shy away from the uglier side of life. The Easter Parade certainly delivers on all those fronts. Deceptively slim at a mere 240 pages, Yates chronicles the life of two sisters, Sarah and Emily, from 1940s to 1970s New York. There aren’t any ‘big’ blockbuster type dramas in this book, rather it’s two lives lived somewhat differently with the benefits and drawbacks of both. To put it simply, it’s just life. Yes, there aren’t events that happen to everyone but I bet they will have happened to someone you know (even if you aren’t aware of it). This is a story that everyone can relate to.
Through elegant prose, Yates leads us through the young lives of Sarah and Emily and what it means to have divorced parents in that era. Emily is somewhat unsure of her role in the family – is it to be the sensible side of Pookie (her alcoholic, whimsical mother) or is it to emulate the glamourous Sarah, who once had a photo in the newspaper from the Easter parade? Or it is to make her own way?
Sarah chooses the conventional side of life and marries Tony, settling down in Long Island on his parents’ estate. Emily, in comparison, chooses college, mundane jobs and dead end relationships. It would seem that Sarah has the better end of the deal – or does she? The story is bittersweet as we learn that life in the suburbs hides unhappiness, abuse and alcoholism. Each sister has a sense of unfulfilment which she is trying to solve. Yates doesn’t offer any definite answers or sense of relief. This is life with its ups and downs – take it or leave it.
You might be wondering why I rated this so highly if this book is so damn depressing. It’s Yates’ skill to make sadness and emptiness readable so that hopefully, we recognise the good things. I think this is something he has in common with Truman Capote (such as in Summer Crossing). Both write detailed stories that detail everyday life, warts and all, capturing emotion so well. I can’t wait to read more of Yates’ work, paradoxical as that may seem!