” Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce. That happened in 1930, when Sarah was nine years old and Emily five. ” (Part One, Ch. 1 p.3)
The Easter Parade follows the Grimes sisters for forty years. They are observed over the decades after their parents’ divorce in 1930, which, ruefully, seems to have dictated the unhappy course of their respective lives. Sarah is stable and stalwart, but often lacking insights, takes the usual course as many women did during post-war America, marries early and settles into parenthood. As Sarah leads an idyllic life, Emily undergoes an irrevocable change in college, where he reads English. She aspires to be independent and sophisticated, demands to be taken seriously and dissociates from the mediocre and commonplace.
There would be no more sex, she promised herself as she drove her fist repeatedly into the pillow upstairs. She would meet men, she would go out with them and laugh and dance and do all the other things you were supposed to do, but there would be no more sex until—well, until she was absolutely sure of what she was doing. (Part One, Ch.4 p.67)
What keeps the sisters bonded over the years as they weather through relationship storms is fond memory of their father, a copy-desk editor whom their vain mother divorced. Reflections on times with their modest but morosely affectionate father become a focal point in their life, some kind of a moment in time from which the sisters draw comfort and strength. Sarah becomes a victim of a physically abusive husband who beats her in the presence of their sons. But out of love she chooses to stay married. Emily drifts through a series of unsatisfactory relationships without any promise of consummation.
And that did it. They had been holding back tears all evening, all night, but that phrase was too much. Sarah started crying first and Emily got up from the floor to take her in her arms and comfort her, until it was clear that she couldn’t comfort anyone because she was crying too. With their mother lying in a coma twenty miles away, they clung together drunkenly and wept for the loss of their father. (Part Two, Ch.3 p.136)
The Easter Parade is quiet novel. Like almost every Yates story, this is on one level a tragedy, but the journey of his characters is illuminating. The quality and exquisiteness of his writing is noteworthy, owing to the fact that he keeps a distance from his characters. Yates has a knack for the effortlessness with which he encapsulates life, an he allows life to unravel at its own course. This quietness of style best illuminates time’s difference, since over half the sisters’ lives are packed into the thin volume. The book is one that will stay with readers and haunt them long after the last page is turned—because of the tragic choices and truly empty lives the sisters allow themselves. The Easter Parade is a devastating account of how dreams are more than unfulfilled: one finds herself utterly alone, her past wasted, her future hopeless, and her life consumed by regrets.
229 pp. Picador Paperback. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [Buy/ Borrow]