Originally published in 1976, The Easter Parade, justifies its classic status. The story, revolving around gendered concerns, the complications of family and love, imparting a sense of futility and time passing, remains wholly contemporary. Yates’ novel is one that entered on a timelessness human experience: life and living.
That said, for all its timelessness, the novel is grounded in its historical moment. It carries the reader through several decades, letting them be witness to shifts in American culture, especially as it pertains to gendered expectations and the function of love and sex in the lives of educated white women in mid-twentieth century America.
The plot follows the life of two sisters, though it is centrally focused on the younger, Emily Grimes. As children Sarah and Emily Grimes were part of a generation whose parents were divorced; their mother is a single mother, their father is an absent, yet present factor in their lives. The tale follows them through adolescence and then young adulthood, where their paths diverge. Sarah takes the more conventional path of marriage, child-bearing and raising, while Emily pursues academic life, single womanhood, love affairs — marriage too, but also divorce — and a career. The Easter Parade is built on their divergent, yet intertwined lives; Part three and four of the novel take the reader into the interiority of their familial and sibling bond. Despite their differences, the sisters remain, well, sisters.
In a sense, this is a novel about nothing and everything, the intangibility of our lives and the worth of living those lives. I have just finished reading it, feeling like I have traversed the twentieth century, like I have witnessed humanity being played out among other people, been given a privileged view into someone’s life.