Are you a glass half-full or half-empty person? I am most certainly a ‘half-full’ kind of person (and on occasion have been told by others to ‘quit being a Pollyanna‘. Pooh to that). So, as a glass-half-full-er, it is somewhat odd that I relish plunging myself into the gloom that is Richard Yates – in this case The Easter Parade.
I think of Yates as the ultimate glass-half-empty author and recently described his writing to someone as ‘quietly depressing’. Because that is exactly what it is – there are no catastrophic, life changing events and no climatic scenes, just the slow unfurling of suburban misery. He just does it so god-damn well.
The Easter Parade follows Emily Grimes from her childhood in the 1930s until late 1975, just before her 50th birthday. Emily’s sister, Sarah, plays a major role in the story and while Emily is independent and intellectual, Sarah is stable and traditional.
Yates’ work has been analysed within an inch of its life and I’m sure that I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said. So instead, I’ll share what I loved about this particular book –
- although not much ‘happens’, I couldn’t put it down. The story creeps up on you – it’s not driven by obvious plot lines and the reader is not waiting for a particular resolution and yet Yates keeps you reading… How does he do that?!
- despite the story being about ordinary life, there are some big themes emerging from the minutiae, namely the choices women made in the 50s/60s/70s, particularly around relationships. Emily can’t commit and has a number of relationships with ‘suitable’ and not-so-suitable men and ends up old and alone. In contrast, Sarah marries young, has a family and winds up stuck in an abusive marriage (for Sarah believes that marriage is the answer to “an awful lot of things.”). The fate of Emily and Sarah’s divorced parents is also thrown into the mix. The message? Don’t spend too much emotional energy pondering relationship choices because regardless, the outcome will suck.
“She believes in marriage, you see. She said to me once ‘I was a virgin when I got married and I’ve been a virgin ever since.’ Isn’t that the damnedest statement you’ve ever heard?”
- the sense of time in this book is extraordinary. Yates doesn’t have to rely on overt cultural references – instead, we see the growing women’s liberation movement expressed through changes in the educational and employment opportunities available to Emily (and to a lesser extent Sarah).
The Easter Parade made me wonder what would happen if a ‘glass-half-full author’ took the same characters and the same story and wrote it from a Pollyanna perspective – focusing on the highlights of Emily’s life rather than the low points. It certainly would have been a very different story but at the same time, the same (if you see what I’m getting at).
“I see,” she said, And when would she ever learn to stop saying “I see” about things that she didn’t see at all?”
4/5 For brilliance in the mundane.
A perfectly fitting partner for The Easter Parade is chicken a la king – so seventies even a vol-au-vent can’t dress it up. Try the recipe from All About Food – the toast cups certainly photograph better than a vol-au-vent.