The Easter Parade – Richard Yates
April 5, 2010 § 13 Comments
I’m almost fifty years old and I’ve never understood anything in my whole life.
~ Emily Grimes
It was a toss between reading Revolutionary Road or The Easter Parade, and the latter won because of 2 things: it’s a shorter novel, and it’s the story of two sisters, Sarah and Emily Grimes, whose lives are really as different as night and day.
The Easter Parade starts when Emily is just 5 years old, and ends with her being 50. So it’s quite obvious from the outset that the story is about her life, her ups and downs, her experiences and feelings. Her parents are divorced; she lives with her mother (who insists her daughters call her Pookie), while her dad only comes to visit several times a year.
The story doesn’t dwell much on the sisters’ childhoods, and very soon, Sarah is married, while Emily gets a scholarship in college. Emily decides she wants to major in English, and when she tells her father this, he says to her:
Good. You’ll read a lot of good books. Oh, you’ll read some that aren’t so good, too, but you’ll learn to distinguish between them. You’ll live in the world of ideas for four whole years before you have to concern yourself with anything as trivial as the demands of workaday reality – that’s what’s nice about college.
Life goes on, and with that, death also becomes inevitable. The girls’ father, Walter Grimes, dies. (I’m not giving much away, this happens quite early on in the story.) It is here that there is a sudden clear glimpse of Emily and her mindset, her personality, what lies so deep inside of her that she might not even be aware of it herself:
But she stopped crying abruptly when she realised that even that was a lie: these tears, as always before in her life, were wholly for herself – for poor, sensitive Emily Grimes whom nobody understood, and who understood nothing.
Emily was a really complex person for me. She felt like she was unsure of herself, a little odd, and sometimes she was just downright confusing. Sometimes I could completely understand why she would do or say certain things, and I would really be able to feel what she might have been feeling. But at other times, I just felt like she was completely out of her mind.
But in a way, Emily was a very real person. The selfish thoughts that penetrate her mind are things that I believe each of us have (maybe different levels of selfishness), but not all of us are willing to admit to thinking them. Yates made her believable, made her real, made her human. Her flaws were just as important as her strengths; her emotions and thoughts were what made her Emily Grimes.
I did wish, though, that I could have gotten to know Sarah Grimes a little more. Maybe it’s because Sarah is the elder sister, and myself having a younger sister of my own, I felt like I would have connected with Sarah much more than I did with Emily. I wanted to know what was going through Sarah’s head when she got married, when she decided to move away. What did she go through when Emily was in New York? Why did she love Tony (her husband) so much? What was it like for her growing up?
At the end of the first chapter, Sarah had an accident that resulted in her needing stitches just above her eye. I think this was truly the core of everything that happened in both Sarah’s and Emily’s life; something that seemed completely irrelevant, but in the end, it was exactly this that tied the whole story together.
Sarah’s eye wasn’t damaged – her wide, deep brown eyes remained the dominant feature in a face that would become beautiful – but for the rest of her life a fine little blue-white scar wavered down from one eyebrow into the lid, like the hesitant stroke of a pencil, and Emily could never look at it without remembering how well her sister had borne pain. It reminded her too, time and again, of her own susceptibility to panic and her unfathomable dread of being alone.
A beautifully written story about life, this one.