In The Easter Parade, Richard Yates delivers a well-crafted and well-written novel with the bluntness and mercy of a rusty scalpel.
Yates allows us to follow the life of Emily Grimes all the way from childhood into her fifties. Her mother is a reckless, distracted woman who divorced Emily’s father when Emily was just a child. Her older sister, Sarah, has a promising beginning but soon enters a marriage that is unsatisfying.
Believing herself to have escaped the dull lives of her sister and mother, Emily becomes a working woman throughout the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. She falls into one affair after another, moving on when the relationship becomes stale, and sometimes even endures one-night stands.
As she watches her mother and sister waste away, she believes she has made the right decision in what she’s done with her life. The only problem is, she’s largely unhappy throughout most of it.
And this is what’s most troubling about Yates’ book – no one seems content with their lives. I can only believe Yates’ is either making a social statement or an observation about the American people, especially the “working class.”
While The Easter Parade is a brief read, Yates composes elegant, yet frank, sentences that are smooth and enjoyable to read. This is quite a contrast when compared to the dark, moody content of those words.
The Easter Parade troubled me for another reason, however. Yates focuses primarily upon Emily Grimes – supposedly an independent woman. However, Grimes seems to be at the mercy of her male lovers throughout the entire novel, even defining herself by them in some cases. And while I don’t want to spoil the ending of the novel, Yates eventually places Emily in a position that in no way utilizes the independence she prided herself upon throughout the work.
Ultimately, this means one of two things – Yates wanted to use a character that confused sovereignty with aloofness in order to illustrate the danger of missing out on life for fear of being strangled by it, or he ultimately doesn’t believe women can truly operate at an autonomous level.
Whatever the case, this bleak, expertly written novel is both depressing and thought provoking.