"Human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience."
Alfred North Whitehead
"Life is like an onion: you peel off layer after layer
and then you find there is nothing in it."
James Gibbons Hunter
"Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable."
"Life sucks and then you die."
Richard Yates opens Easter Parade, his great novel of the futility of modern life, "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce." Sarah and Emily are the Grimes sisters, growing up in the thirties and forties when divorce was far less commonplace than it is now. Their mother, whom they call Pookie, has moved the girls from the city to the suburbs. There they will spend their childhood and adolescence, moving from home to home, town to town, as Pookie false starts and fails at job after job.
At first, despite their sordid circumstances, there is such promise. Sarah emerges from childhood a great beauty. Emily is intelligent and will go to college to become a writer. But both will end up defining their lives, in one way or another, by the men around them.
Sarah will marry young and we will watch in horror as all the life is sucked out of her by the choices she's made. Emily will make a successful career for herself but will stumble from one love affair to another, never finding happiness, satisfaction, or even contentment.
Both will drink too much, as will nearly every other character, major or minor, in the novel.
Easter Parade is bleak and clear-eyed, gorgeously written in simple, spare language. You'll be charmed by the Grimes sisters' spirits and frequent optimism, even as you're horrified by how their choices--sometimes offhand, sometimes well thought-out--can go so wrong. You may love this novel, and you may very well hate it, but you will probably not be indifferent to it.