The Easter Parade - Richard Yates After Revolutionary Road, I swore I would never read Richard Yates again. Not because the book was bad, far from it, but the tragedy and despair that surrounded the story was so palpable I had to recover my sense of equilibrium afterward. However, a few weeks back I read an article on bad book blurbs, which was particularly focused on Yates’ Easter Parade, and it caught my attention enough that I put the book on my TBR list and picked it up on my last library visit. I’m happy to say I don’t regret going back on my promise to myself, even if Easter Parade is no brighter or more optimistic than Revolutionary Road.

In some ways, I feel that Yates is the writer Hemingway was trying so hard to be. Spare and direct in his prose, without maudlin tones or sentimentality, Yates manages to construct a story essentially free of plot or good versus evil dichotomies and still keep the reader interested. His characters are flawed and often difficult to like, but there is at least some tiny redeeming quality to make them, if not likable, at least interesting enough to generate curiosity and propel the reader forward.

The Easter Parade is the history of sisters Sarah and Emily, or so the opening line would have you believe, but don’t be fooled; this is Emily’s story. From the very start, the reader is informed that Emily and Sarah’s lives will not end with happily ever after, and oh boy is that an understatement. Emily is a woman who cannot bear to be alone, and each attempt to relieve this loneliness seems less successful than the last. I was impressed by Yates ability to capture the essence of his female characters; they never devolve into caricatures or “woe is me, I need a man” types, but they deal with the issues that all people do at one point or another, and also contend with the expectations that are directed almost exclusively at women. At times, the loneliness and heartbreak Yates’ characters suffer can be hard to bear, but they are expressed so expertly I couldn’t help but continue.

Much of the story focuses on people “doing the best they can” with what opportunities they have been given. Unfortunately, “the best they can” often includes alcoholism, wife beating and frequent abortions. Occasionally there is an odd sense of disconnect between the emotions of the characters and their expression, but I think this is due more to the limited perspective as filtered through Emily than any inability on the part of the author.

I cannot say this book is a favorite, but it is high on the list of books I can appreciate, particularly for its sheer emotional power and ability to propel an entire novel forward on the strength of characters rather than plot.