Book Of A Lifetime: The Easter Parade, By Richard Yates

In the autumn of 1992 I stumbled upon a novel that changed my writing career. This encounter took place in an used bookshop, hidden away in a backstreet of a deeply unbookish metropolis: Kansas City, Missouri; a town best known for its blues bars and barbecue restaurants, not for its emporia of published words. Yet browsing through a book warehouse, I happened upon a novel by a then largely forgotten American novelist named Richard Yates.

Now, Yates is finally perceived as a key postwar American writer, thanks to a brilliant biography (by Blake Bailey) and Sam Mendes's very fine film of Revolutionary Road. This tale of a suburban marriage coming asunder marked Yates as the Flaubert of the Eisenhower years; he peeled away the veneer of postwar plenty and saw the empty chasm beneath.

Unlike Updike and Cheever – his more successful contemporaries – Yates never played the elegiac card. His much-praised first novel sold badly, and with good reason. His vision of all-American self-entrapment and self-loathing was so fiercely realised that it was judged almost too painful to read.

The Easter Parade is now widely regarded as Yates's other great novel. I would say it's one of the most important works of fiction by an American in the late 20th century. From the moment I stumbled across it, it became a key work for me – as its bleak world-view coincided with my own.

A compacttyet densely plotted novel that spans 40 years, it is the tale of two sisters: Emily and Sarah Grimes. Sarah marries a blockhead, lives in Long Island and succumbs to quiet desperation. Emily heads to the city, has a series of less-than-important jobs in advertising, sleeps with many men, loses her career, drifts into drink and eventually jettisons all the ballast that once kept her afloat. If it all sounds profoundly depressing.... well, it is. But more than anything, Yates's bleak, great novel reinforces the idea that there is no such thing as an ordinary life; that everyone lives out a narrative of their own making.

For a child of the Fifties, born and raised in Manhattan, the brilliantly detailed social landscape immediately hit home. So too did Yates's vision of people not attuned to life's larger possibilities. As Emily notes, she has been alive for more than five decades, but she understands nothing.

The fearlessness of Yates's world view astonished me. Here was a writer willing to articulate so many uncomfortable truths about temporal existence and the great human capacity for self-delusion. His eye was unflinching, yet his compassion always manifest. The Easter Parade stands as one of those small, quiet masterpieces which speaks volumes about the fundamental sadness at the heart of everything, and which poses that most unsettling of questions: can we ever really comprehend ourselves?

Douglas Kennedy's eighth novel, 'Leaving the World', is published by Hutchinson

Click here to purchase this book

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam