Since I liked Revolutionary Road so much while in Spain and having enjoyed his short stories, I grabbed a copy of The Easter Parade by Richard Yates last weekend. This might be the most depressing book I’ve ever read, or at least in the top 5. Here, Yates follows the Grimes sisters for over 40 years from their parent’s divorce in childhood through old age. Younger sister Emily, who searches for happiness through various jobs and men in her peripatetic life, provides the eyes through which we watch them. Sarah, the elder, seems happily married throughout her life, at least to Emily, but all is not as it seems of course. As it turns out, Sarah’s husband, the genial English Tony, beats her. The other major character in EP is their divorced mother “Pookie” who moves them around from house to house as children. Both sister’s resentment for her is palpable and she dies alone in a home, having lost much of her mind to drink.
Why was this book so depressing? Perhaps it’s Emily’s bad relationships that she falls into one after the other. Each man comes with huge problems (who doesn’t?) and none of them seem to see Emily as herself, but as an answer to their troubles. They gravitate to her because she doesn’t know herself and therefore though she appears she’s always listening to them, it’s more that she has nothing to say for herself. In the end, Emily ends up alone and bitter, in the same position she found her mother at the end of her life. Lives never stepped into, that’s what I kept thinking, the constant yearning for something and not even knowing what to look for. I finished this book very late one night and it kept me awake most of the rest of the night.
There is a great biography of Richard Yates out now. It was through this biography that I met his work. It’s well worth the depression factor to read it.
Is that ‘Tragic Honesty’? I have a copy, but haven’t read it yet. But you’re right, it does look good! Maybe I will have to move it to the top of the pile.
Hello, I’ve been lurking …
TRAGIC HONESTY is a really fine biography – it’s amazing what Bailey’s able to piece together of a life that was basically spent drinking and writing and living in poverty. Yates emerges as a troubled individual – but his commitment to his work and the craft is inspiring (especially given his living conditions). What was most interesting about the bio (I recall – it has already been several years since I read it) was his relationship with the women in his life, particularly his daughters. He seems to have spared them in his writing (which is insanely autobiographical).
THE EASTER PARADE is probably his best novel – but I also enjoyed YOUNG HEARTS CRYING and A GOOD SCHOOL (revealing a slightly gentler, nostalgic side to Yates).
Yates’s work should come with a Surgeon General’s warning but Blake Bailey’s fine bio encapsulates a truly tough, tragic life. It stands tall with Yates’s fiction.
By the way, Cheever is Bailey’s next effort.
Yes, I’m stoked re the Cheever.
I am going to have to get to Tragic Honesty soon, if only to see the man behind the depressing work. I’ve heard many excellent things about Bailey’s biography, so I expect the Cheever should be great too.