Eric's Reviews > The Easter Parade
The Easter Parade
by Richard Yates
by Richard Yates
I’m not sure what Yates was up to in two-thirds of The Easter Parade. He certainly wasn’t playing to his strength—that is, the deep, layered scene: the slow death of a party; the waning of an afternoon buzz; the polite prolongation of a tense visit; lives told in gesture; and dialogue so perfect you see speakers without description. Two of the novel’s three Parts flash by in what biographer Blake Bailey, I see, grandly dubs “summary narration” which, he goes on to plead, “serves the larger purpose of emphasizing the characters’ helplessness, as if things were happening to them, suddenly, but with a terrible logic.” That’s bullshit. “Summary narration” = phoning it in. Narration so summary means thin, watery prose, a sketched outline of events rather than patient portrayal, and merely nominal protagonists. In the especially weak middle section I wondered if the dimming of Yates’s reputation, from the 1960s on, wasn’t, you know, deserved. It’s that bad. But not for long. The guy can write. When he’s at his best—and he’s at his best in the psych wards and cemeteries and mildewy kitchens of Part Three—Bellow and Updike mean nothing to me. Nothing. I thought of Yates the other day, when a skimmed article on US-sponsored massacres of Guatemalans yielded up some Sartre: “A victory described in detail is indistinguishable from a defeat.” Yates sees you at your most triumphant and glamorous and rewarded and all he notes is a jerky shamble of awkwardness, a coarse patchwork of illusions—after Sarah Grimes’ wedding, her father “kept mostly to himself at the party; he stood nursing a scotch, ready to smile at Sarah whenever she smiled at him”—and oh shit, you better not let him see you gulping down screwdrivers on the couch, or witness the congress of louts that gathers to drink after your funeral. We’re all doomed!
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