The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

The sins of the mother…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.

the easter paradeSarah and Emily Grimes have a disrupted childhood, moving from place to place as their feckless, alcoholic mother struggles to settle anywhere. Their father, who loves them, is mainly absent from their lives and they give him a kind of mythic quality, believing him to be a more important man than the reality suggests. The girls come to adulthood around the time of WW2, and their lives diverge. Sarah follows the conventional route of marriage and motherhood, while Emily has a succession of sexual relationships of varying depth and intensity, but never lasting long. In a sense, there’s a sibling rivalry going on, with each of the women somewhat envying the lifestyle of the other. But as the first line, quoted above, makes clear, both are destined to miserable existences.

I loved Revolutionary Road, declaring it almost the equal of Gatsby for what it had to say about the American Dream. That book was certainly not a happy one, but Yates’ insight into his characters and their society, combined with his starkly beautiful prose, made it a profoundly emotional and intelligent read. I came to this one, then, with high hopes and expectations.

To be honest, I’m not sure what Yates is trying to say in this one at all. Simplistically, the message seems to be that children from broken homes are doomed to misery, doomed to repeat the failures of their parents. He seems to be doing a compare and contrast exercise, conventional versus unconventional lifestyle, and concluding that whatever choices the sisters made, the end result would be the same – to die unhappy and unloved.

The writing is fine, plain and with no stylistic flourishes, but somehow I felt it lacked the penetrating beauty of the prose in Revolutionary Road. When reading a paper copy for review, I stick little post-it notes at passages I may want to quote, usually because I think they’re either beautiful or profound or, with luck, both. To my own surprise, when I finished this book, I found I hadn’t marked a single passage. The problem is not that it’s in any way badly written, it’s just rather unremarkable.

I also struggled to accept the characterisation. The main viewpoint is Emily’s, the unconventional sister. We follow her as she fails at one relationship after another, always because she seems to pair off with damaged men – the failed poet, the man who still loves his ex-wife, the man who has issues with his own sexual performance, etc. But I found that rather annoying and, dare I say it, a little misogynistic. Emily is intelligent, educated and successful in her career, but Yates makes it clear that this isn’t what a woman needs. She needs a successful relationship with a man, otherwise she will go to drink and the devil, probably ending up mad. Emily is doomed, however, never to find a decent man, though why this should be so is entirely unclear.

Richard Yates
Richard Yates

But meantime Sarah, who has gone the conventional route by marrying, has a husband who beats her – so she spirals into drink and despair, ending up in a psychiatric home. The same home as their mother – abandoned by her man – ended up in when she spiralled into drink and despair. (One wonders if they got a discount for quantity.) I’m pretty sure that Yates didn’t mean to imply that the only hope for women to escape the clutches of insanity is to marry well, but that leaves me wondering just exactly what he was trying to say.

I suspect the book may have been written at the height of the great ‘it’s all the parents’ fault’ craze, which people used as a method of absolving themselves of responsibility for their own actions; and, of course, at the height of the great psychiatry phase, when going to a ‘shrink’ was seen as the fashionable norm, rather than the exception, for the richer portion of society (a particularly American craze, that one – never took off to quite the same degree over here). In that sense, perhaps it does say something insightful about the time of writing, but it never felt wholly authentic to me.

I did find it very readable – the quality and flow of Yates’ writing ensured that. But when I got to the end, I felt I had simply spent time watching two sad and failed lives spelled out in great detail for no particular purpose, and without that sense of truth and insight that raised Revolutionary Road from commonplace misery to devastating tragedy.

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44 thoughts on “The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

    • I’ve only read this and Revolutionary Road, which I did think was wonderful. But these great American classics have on the whole been some of my best reads over the last couple of years – with a few exceptions!

  1. Sorry to hear that this one didn’t sweep you away, FictionFan. Yates does write very well, style-wise. But if the characters and depth don’t make you ‘plunge in,’ then they don’t. And this one certainly doesn’t sound like one of those uplifting, edifying sorts of novels. Reading about people being miserable to no purpose can be hard. Still, it’s good to hear you thought it was well-written.

    • Yes, it’s really more of an extended character study this one, and I’m more of a plot kind of gal. I suspect the problem was mainly that I wasn’t in tune with his message, so didn’t really buy in to all the misery, unlike Revolutionary Road, where I felt he was saying something important and true…

  2. Have not read this author though I remember sweeping pass in a Lit class in college. I think children from broken homes can overcome the issues, but more often than not it doesn’t happen. The children need as the least, some adult(s) who can be depended upon.

    • I’d certainly recommend Revolutionary Road, but less so this one. Hmm… I’m kinda the other way round. I think some kids do suffer from bad parenting but I think more do manage to overcome it, especially in countries with strong school and social systems to help out. But these two just didn’t really ring true for me somehow… it felt contrived.

        • Yes, I think we’re luckier in having a standard, state-run and basically secular system – anathema to the US, I know, but it does have it’s advantages. Though it doesn’t always work…

    • Thank you. 🙂 Yes, I get the impression all his books are a bit miserable but Rev Road had so much else going for it I didn’t feel it was just misery for misery’s sake, whereas with this I kinda did…

  3. I haven’t read this one, but I have to say it sounds positively dreary. Thanks for braving through it so I don’t have to! You didn’t mark a single passage? That speaks volumes, you know. I seems to me there should be more than depressing events taking place in a novel!

    • Ha! It was kinda dreary, and I felt the girls could just as easily have made different choices – he didn’t convince me they were doomed! I know – I only ever don’t mark passages if a book is either not doing it for me or is so brilliant I don’t want to stop. This one fell into the first category, I’m afraid – I don’t mind tragedy, but misery is just miserable… 😉

  4. So sorry to hear that this one didn’t live up to your expectations, especially as you loved Revolutionary Road so much. Really interesting to read your thoughts, though. It’s a very different book to Yates’ debut, quieter and less dramatic I guess. Having recently read another of his novels, I doubt whether many of his characters have contented or fulfilled lives. I kept wondering whether two sisters could have helped and supported one another a little more in life – perhaps that might have made them feel less alone.

    • I did enjoy the writing – just wasn’t convinced by the message… or even really sure what exactly the message was. It’s largely personal preference though. I undoubtedly prefer plot driven novels to character driven – though I do like strong characters too. Yes, I felt both sisters, but especially Emily, made odd choices along the way that seemed designed to make them unhappy, and I couldn’t help feeling the hand of the author at work in that. Whereas in Rev Road, I felt the characters’ behaviour had a kind of inevitability that felt much truer somehow.

  5. Did I tell you I read Revolutionary Road?! I found it heartbreaking, but I thought about it for months after. He managed to touch on a very real, raw nerve. I think Trump was responsible! Lots of crooked housing deals… 😉

    • Did you? Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s one that has continued to linger in my mind – the sure sign of a great novel for me, since I can forget a novel even before I’ve finished it! I found the characterisation in that one exceptional and a kind of inevitability to their actions which felt true to them, unlike this one, where I kinda felt the author was too deliberately making their lives worse at each point for effect…

      I blame Trump for everything! The Obamas have been having lunch with the Queen today, and I was chuckling wickedly at the thought that next year the poor old dear might have to have lunch with Donald and Melania… ah, who’d be a Queen?

      • Hah! That might be the end of the Queen if it comes to that! It’s certainly going to be a close call for me! I’m no longer allowed to watch the news. Apparently I’m kicking and screaming, but I cannot go down without a fight!

        • Haha! I still can’t believe it really. Pres. O. has been telling us Brits this week how we should vote in our upcoming European referundum, and I’ve developed a burning desire to tweet him to say – hey! How about giving some advice to your own country re voting…?? Oh dear! But surely he won’t win…

            • It is kinda frightening that so many people seem to like what he says. And while I’m right behind Hillary, she seems to be highly unpopular over there – can’t believe she’s still fighting for the nomination at this stage. Americans voting for a socialist?? What has happened to the world???

            • She is hugely unpopular. She’s seen as a lying opportunist. Somehow, I suspect these accusations would be far less popular if she were male… Has anyone ever accused a man of being an opportunist? Usually that’s just called ambition.

              In the end, she is the only qualified candidate, in my opinion, with a firm understanding of our political landscape. I’m hoping more people come to their senses. This idea of Americans wanting political outsiders and treating experience like stale bread is naive and self destructive. It’s no different than people being disappointed with Pres O, without understanding our obstructionist congress… I’m sorry to rant. My family is tired of hearing me on this subject! I fear I have used up this year’s ranting quota!! And I’m trying not to write angry poetry!! Hahaha! *deep breaths until November*

            • Ha! Yes, indeed! I actually protested to the BBC about their coverage – they refer to Mr Trump, Mr Sanders etc, but always call her Hillary or Hillary Clinton. I suspect there’s a little bit of sexism in that – they do it with our female politicians too. Mr Cameron but Theresa May. I was intrigued to discover that they’d had lots of other people complaining about the same thing. (I spend a lot of time complaining to the BBC – I feel it’s my duty!)

              Yes, this idea of having an outsider is nice in theory, but what other organisation would hire someone with no experience? And Hillary (yes, I know I do it too – but I’m not a supposedly impartial broadcaster! 😉 ) has huge experience in both domestic and foreign affairs. She’s the only one of the top contenders I’d like to see as Pres.

              I’d like to apologise for the gridlock in your government – according to Arthur Herman in his book on the Scottish Enlightenment, the American system is all our fault…

  6. Well, I’m glad you read it, because I love your insights into why you think he wrote what he did and what you think he might have been trying to say (or not say). It does sound pretty depressing, though, to have both sisters end up so miserable. Your comments have me wondering why it was about two sisters and not two brothers. Are men not as likely to end up miserable because of divorced parents? Someone should write a take-off of the novel about 2 brothers whose parents are divorced and all the ways their lives turn out all wrong.

    • Aw, thank you! 🙂 Yes, it’s intriguing that he chose sisters, because some of the reviews I’ve read suggest there’s quite a strong autobiographical element in the book. Perhaps that’s why – maybe he didn’t want it to seem too much like his own life. And I know it’s of its time, but I do get fed up with the idea that women’s happiness is entirely dependent on men, whereas men’s happiness tends to be more job/role focused. Haha! Yes!! You write it, and I’ll review it… 😉

  7. I was keen to read your review as I also loved ‘Revolutionary Road’ and could have easily been tempted to read another Yates novel. It doesn’t sound like it matches RR, which is a shame. Still, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it – very insightful!

    • Thank you! 🙂 I get the impression that in general Rev Road is considered to be his best by a long way. His writing style still made this one very readable, so I wouldn’t try to put anyone off trying it, but for me it didn’t have the same depth or truthfulness of RR. Pity!

  8. This is on my list of books that I want to read, because I was interested in the ‘broken home’ aspect – I’m now not so sure as I suspect my views chime more with yours than the authors so maybe I’ll select Revolutionary Road instead after all.

    • I must say I think Rev Road is vastly superior, though this one is still very readable. But in Rev Road, I really believed in the characters and how they behaved, and found it devastating rather than depressing. I still think of Rev Road often…

  9. Not a single passage!!! That’s telling. Interesting that even after you’ve cut the author some slack for the context in which it was written, you still can’t enjoy it. Well, I’ll just stick with RR.

    • Yes, I thought it might just have been the mood I was in, but I checked Goodreads quotes page to see what other people had highlighted and there were only a handful of quotes, including the one I’ve given, and none of them seemed particularly quote-worthy to me. It’s partly that I prefer plot driven to character driven on the whole, but I didn’t believe in these characters the way I did in RR…

  10. I’ve had “Revolutionary Road” on my TBR list for a while. Looks like I’ll stick to that one. I’m often hesitant over male authors who attempt to write intimately about women’s lives. Though the men don’t sound like winners in this either!

    The whole “it’s always the mother’s fault” trope in media is one of the things that terrifies me about parenthood!

    • Revolutionary Road is brilliant, though devastating. Yes, I do wonder why he decided to make it two sisters. It wasn’t that they were unbelievable or badly drawn, really – just that it all felt a bit contrived to ensure that they had no way to escape their miserable destiny. Not a philosophy I’m in tune with!

      Ha! I think the parents who are terrified about the trope are the ones who will avoid it! In my experience, if you feed them and love them, then they usually turn out OK… 😉

  11. I hated RR because of the unhappiness, but like other ‘greats’ I’m still thinking about the story and message long after reading it.
    Despite the gorgeous cover, I won’t be reading The Easter Parade. As always though, I enjoyed your review. I do think we repeat what we learn from watching our parents, and choose partners with similar morals and values (for better or worse).

    • I don’t mind tragedy in a book, but am not enthusiastic about misery, and I thought RR was one of the most tragic things I’ve ever read. And like you, I still think about it…

      I do too, on the whole, but I don’t think it’s inevitable that because our parents were miserable we have to be too. Or indeed the other way round! 😉

  12. I think the two sisters should’ve started a fighting club, or something cool like that. Imagine. Why get married when you can have a fight club? That’s the great logic, see.

    What happens to their mom?

    • This is very true! But they could also have formed a cake club on the basis of the same logic…

      She dies drunk, miserable and mad. Not very convincing, since it’s usually sons that do that to their mothers, not daughters… *smiles beatifically*

      • That’s true. Especially if they were good at making cakes. Then they could’ve opened a shop in the mall. I might’ve bought a cake or two. Or three. But not four.

        Everyone knows that boys are way better than girls…

  13. Oh. You know I keep flirting with this book and not being sure … and this hasn’t helped me make up my mind. Such a good and fair review! Ha! Maybe I’ll just have to see if I happen across a copy!

    • Certainly plenty of people have enjoyed it far more than I did. It might partly be because my expectations were so high after Revolutionary Road, plus I’m never really enthralled by books which are basically just character studies. Still worth looking our for, I think… 🙂

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