I’ve been meaning to crack a Richard Yates ever since his writing spiked posthumously back into prominence a couple of years ago with the filming of his Revolutionary Road. The film is a winner–well-deserved academy award for Kate Winslet, one of DiCaprio’s few fine performances, one of Kathy Bates’ usual fine performances. Several articles heralded Yates as a forgotten and neglected talent whose work deserved more attention and respect. So it was that I finally got around to The Easter Parade.
Whether Yates belongs among the top American authors, I won’t venture an opinion. He may not be a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald or a Faulkner, but he’s certainly worth reading. And Easter Parade sports one of the best opening sentences around. “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.” Sarah and Emily follow different paths. Sarah builds and devotes herself to a family on Long Island. Emily goes to Barnard, works in Manhattan publishing and advertising and moves through a chorus of men. As several characters put it in this 1976 novel, she seems the model of the liberated women.
We follow primarily Emily, the younger, liberated, sister. From childhood to her first sex in Central Park, her first (impotent) husband, her second (depressed) husband.
[As an aside, I wonder if this last one, Jack Flanders, is a bit of an authorial self-portrait. Revolutionary Road was heralded. Yates’s later books, I guess, not so much. Similarly Jack Flanders has published two celebrated volumes of poetry, but now seems dried up. I’ve done no research, so I’m merely speculating.]
As much as the story is about these women, it is about the ravages of alcohol. This is before the alcoholism gene had been identified, but everyone certainly noticed the drinking families. And, indeed, as much as their own flaws and inadequacies put the sisters in trouble, the bottle amplifies and exacerbates whatever perils they step into. Same with their parents.
Thus, in many ways, this is a rather grim, if well-told. story. But there is among the older sister’s younger offspring, a straight arrow Episcopal priest. And not a goody two-shoes, either. Someone you might trust as an advisor. And in the end, through this Peter, there’s a hint of salvation. Of hope. And along the way, an absorbing tale written with inspiring skill.