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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935