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.