Review: The Easter Parade
Author: Richard Yates Title: The Easter Parade Published: 1976 Pages: 226
Even as little girls, Sarah and Emily are very different from each other. Emily looks up to her sensible older sister and is jealous of her relationship with their absent father, and later her seemingly golden marriage. The path she chooses for herself is less safe and conventional and her love affairs never really satisfy her. Although the bond between them endures, gradually the distance between the two women grows, until a tragic event throws their relationship into focus one last time.
The Easter Parade is a mesmerising, unsentimental tour-de-force of repression, envy and emotional baggage. It’s a beautiful and heartbreakingly sad book. Yates writes simple and true without any stylistic tics and in doing so, he allows the characters to breathe. What is wonderful about Yates style is that he allows the reader to think, to feel without being told what to think or feel. His short succinct prose carries more weight than it appears, often sentences just shoot right to your heart with a simple flourish.
The novel is centred on the differences and interaction between two sisters: Emily and Sarah Grimes, both living wildly different lives. “Sarah was the dark one, with a look of trusting innocence that would never leave her; Emily, a head shorter, was blond and thin and serious.” We mainly follow Emily, and periodically meet up with Sarah. Yates portrays the differences between the two in deft brushstrokes. There is a scene in the first chapter which perfectly captures the characters. In the scene the two girls have been to where their father works as a copy-desk man at a newspaper:
‘…And if you think writing headlines is easy, you’re wrong!’ Sarah told a rude boy on the playground after school one day.
Emily, though, was a stickler for accuracy, and as soon as the boy was out of earshot she reminded her sister of the facts. ‘He’s only a copy-desk man,’ she said.
Sarah follows an idealistic path through life; husband, kids and white picket fences, Emily strives through life leaving a pile of failed relationships in search of some kind of happiness. Where the novel really shines is the interaction between the two sisters; an elegant and saddening portray of misplaced envy, pity or intolerance. Sarah is a tragic character, and while we only see her through a small prism of time and perspective, her live seems to spread beyond the brief glances we’re given. And while both sisters both act, at times, intolerably especially Emily, the great thing is that there is no authorial intrusion telling us that what they’re doing is wrong; they’re complex, warts n all human beings.
While the novel is quite dark, the ending does offer a quiet, unstated redemption that makes the emotional journey all the more worthwhile. In the end, this book is just excellent with a mature, well-rounded story. Read it!