09 February, 2010

'The Easter Parade' - Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road was Yates' first novel, and the one to reignite his career (albeit posthumously), thanks to Sam Mendes' film. The jacket of this re-issue of The Easter Parade is crammed with praise for Yates' work. Given the nature of marketing, however, most of it refers to Revolutionary Road, a disservice to this later novel, which demonstrates similar restraint and unflinching observation of lives that play out less than perfectly.

I've done a little bit of reading on Yates, but I'm unsure why it took the film of Revolutionary Road to bring him to the attention of the twenty-first century, or why he hadn't maintained the reputation of Fitzgerald or Carver. Yates' first novel was published in 1961, was well received and nominated for awards. The Easter Parade came out in 1976. Gatsby therefore precedes him by almost half a century; Carver was a contemporary and certainly took influence from Yates' style of realism.

Looking at the endorsements on this edition, it sounds like many respected, current writers knew about the Yates phenomenon all along. That assertion is diluted somewhat by the quote from Nick Hornby, that Revolutionary Road is 'Easily the best novel I've read this year'. I agree with him, but I doubt he's talking about 1961 - apparently even those in the know came to Yates late.

The Easter Parade is a sparse narrative, recounting the lives of two sisters whose parents divorced when the girls were very young. The elder sister, Sarah, follows the expected path of early marriage, settling down to children and never working. The younger Emily flits through jobs and men, always a long way from contentment but assured that the traditional model was not for her.

Although the novel deals with many relationships, it features very little love. Yates was nothing if not a realist, and he is willing to present us with partnerships of expediency rather than romance.

Perhaps one reason Yates was both overlooked for so long and is now so embraced is his subject matter. The reader must remember that The Easter Parade was written over 30 year ago, by a man, and focuses on two women, one of whom has sequential affairs, without ever marrying. The male characters play supporting roles only. Yates' achievement in delivering such a raw yet engaged narrative of two women is a credit. It may have lost him audiences 30 years ago; now, thanks to paths authors such as Yates forged, it's hard to remember how significant it must have been.

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