This book has been sat on my shelves since October when I was fortunate enough to win it in the last literary blog hop giveaway. The book was sent to me by Samstillreading. Richard Yates was a new author for me, someone I had previously been quite unaware of. There are I see several Yates novels and some short stories re-issued by Vintage – making me feel I should have been more aware of this writer. Now having finished reading this quite remarkable novel I can’t help but wonder a little about the man behind it.
“Esther Grimes, or Pookie, was a small active woman whose life seemed pledged to achieving and sustaining an elusive quality she called ‘flair.’ She pored over fashion magazines, dressed tastefully and tried many ways of fixing her hair, but her eyes remained bewildered and she never quite learned to keep her lipstick within the borders of her mouth, which gave her an air of dazed and vulnerable uncertainty. She found more flair among rich people than in the middle class, and so she aspired to the attitudes and mannerisms of wealth in raising her daughters. She always sought ‘nice’ communities to live in, whether she could afford them or not, and she tried to be strict on matters of decorum.”
Sisters Sarah and Emily Grimes are the daughters of a 1930’s broken marriage. They love their father at something of a distance; as children they are proud that he writes headlines for the New York Sun. Emily, unlike her older sister, never really gets to know their father completely, while their slightly unstable mother moves the fractured family from place to place, a series of suburbs, and for Sarah and Emily a series of schools. Eventually their mother Pookie – moves them back to the city. It is here that Sarah meets her future husband, and from where Emily goes to college. Emily has always looked up to Sarah, beautiful and sensible, now smiling goldenly out of a public relations photograph for the Easter Parade on the arm of her handsome fiancée, her future seems certain.
The story which follows and which spans more than three decades is mainly that of Emily. Sarah comfortably married with three boys is very much in the background, as is Pookie, and Emily rarely see them. Emily embarks on a series of unsatisfactory relationships – even marrying once-again unsatisfactorily – and slowly begins to carve out a career for herself, as a librarian, a journalist and then as an advertising copy writer. Never totally out of touch, yet never really close, Sarah and Pookie remain at the back of Emily’s mind. However a dramatic and tragic event pulls the sisters together again years later, when Emily must reassess many things she had taken for granted.
“Tony sat stolidly in a chair across from the sofa, wearing paint-stained dungarees and looking like an exhausted labourer. Beside him, Howard Dunninger smiled uneasily. The only self-assured member of the group was Peter, who had turned into a striking young man. He was dressed in spattered work clothes too – he and his father had been painting the house before their guests arrived – and Emily liked his looks. He wasn’t tall and he wasn’t quite handsome, but he moved around in a graceful way and there was something humorous and wise about his face.”
Yates’s writing is elegant, spare and in the main unemotional – though his portrayal of families in denial and uncomfortable family get togethers is poignantly brilliant. This is a fairly slight novel at around 226 pages – yet there is so much packed into it. Richard Yates is certainly not easy on his characters, unhappy, self-deluding, selfish and damaged; slowly unravelling, they are characters that stay in the readers mind. Not wanting to give away too much – I will only say in conclusion that the story is utterly compelling and hugely readable; I almost ate up the pages. The ending for me, is just unforgettable.
For those of you wanting to read things that are cosy and happy happy happy, Richard Yates is possibly not for you. However I thoroughly enjoyed The Easter Parade and will definitely be looking to read more Yates in the future.