Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.
Friday, March 06, 2009
I'm on a Richard Yates Kick, Apparently: The Easter Parade
The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
"Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce."
Before I get to The Easter Parade itself, it's worth remarking that Richard Yates is criminally underrated as a writer. And I guess I'm not talking about criminally underrated when it comes to being a master of plot or character or dialogue, though he's certainly good at all of these things. I'm talking about sheer writing technique, and that's not a thing that usually catches my eye, at least to a point where I'd remark upon it.
Nine times out of ten, give me some crackling dialogue, and a story that moves, and I'm happy. But with Yates, I'm happy to sit back and just let the words wash over me, never mind that the stories and their characters are largely steeped in troubles that have lost some of their freshness in the literary imagination.
The Easter Parade is about two sisters who couldn't be more different, but somehow wind up equally doomed. Sarah is the more conventional sister, who falls into a great romantic love affair with an Englishman who looks like Laurence Olivier, settles down with him, and raises a family. Her happiness with Tony seems almost decreed by the Fates themselves. They "meet cute," have a stirring courtship from which the book gets its title, and engage in the endearingly annoying custom of intertwining their arms as they take their first sips from a cocktail. But over the course of the novel, it gradually becomes clear that their romance is anything but storybook.
And then, there's Emily, who fervently strikes out on her own path as a Barnard coed, a burgeoning intellectual, a career girl, and a serial siren. Though Sarah plays a large role, the story is really Emily's, and follows her through her careers and her men, each of which eventually proves to be singularly disappointing and unsuitable.
Sarah chooses marriage and family, and it goes bad. Emily chooses career and romance, and it goes bad. Unlike other books from this period, which have some agenda about what women ought to be doing with themselves to avoid malaise, Yates takes the more interesting view that certain people just aren't cut out for happiness. The happiness part is in the details, and in Yates's universe, characters are very good, and certain, at managing their major life choices, and not so good at making them work out in the day to day.
The last 50 pages of the book are among the most inevitably, quietly heartbreaking you'll ever read.
Which leads me to wonder, if you're sitting down to adapt a Richard Yates novel to film, why on earth would you choose Revolutionary Road with The Easter Parade around? While the former might have been nominated for a few awards, the latter would have swept them. Which is not to say that The Easter Parade is a discernibly better book, just that it'd make a much better movie.
Unlike Revolutionary Road, where you're trapped in a suburban house waiting for the moment when everyone cracks up, The Easter Parade moves around, and gets out in the world a little bit.
And proves that suburbia doesn't have the market cornered on unhappiness.