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Adam Cadre and me on Richard Yates’ The Easter Parade

Adam Cadre asked for book recommendations a few months back, and I, eager to see a guy whose site I often read collide with a guy whose books I often read, put in a ballot for Richard Yates’ The Easter Parade. I do particularly admire that novel’s craft, but since James Wood calls it the only one where he managed to “display a systematic sympathy for a female character” and since I know Adam’s greater interest in female characters than male ones from reading his site for so many years, I figured I could confidently vouch for it in its own right. Rather than writing his usual sort of article on the book, Adam invited me to make it a discussion:

The Easter Parade is a novel that follows a character named Emily Grimes from her childhood in the 1930s up to just short of her 50th birthday in late 1975. What follows is a discussion of the novel that I had with recommender Colin Marshall via email over the course of the past few days.

AC: So I try to plunge into these without knowing anything about them, and since I get them from the library and they usually come in solid library binding I don’t even have back-of-the-book marketing copy to give me a clue what the book might be about. However, that does mean that I end up spending a lot of the beginning wondering, “Hmm, what’s the premise here going to be?”That was tough in The Easter Parade, in that it doesn’t follow the dictates of, e.g., David Mamet in On Directing Film, which I just reread. Mamet says to start with the disordering incident and make the rest of the story about order being restored — no preliminaries, no time for the audience to see the characters going about their day-to-day lives and wonder what the story’s going to be about. Everything that happens must further the story of how the problem gets resolved, and that resolution marks the endpoint of the story. But while the very first sentence of The Easter Parade suggests that the disordering incident of the book is the divorce of Walter and Pookie Grimes, it doesn’t really qualify — the rest of the book isn’t about Sarah and Emily putting their lives back together after the divorce. There’s no fixed endpoint, nothing that makes the audience say, “When I learn the answer to this (e.g., will the man succeed in selling the pig or not), the story’s over.” The Easter Parade is basically just a string of incidents in Emily’s life, and could go on pretty much indefinitely — until she dies, or until we reach the present (i.e., the mid-1970s), or until Yates arbitrarily decides that enough is enough. It’s more biographical than dramatic.

CM: I’ll find no better point to break out Simpsons dialogue from 1991:

Homer: Save a guy’s life, and what do you get? Nothing! Worse than nothing! Just a big scary rock.
Bart: Hey, man, don’t badmouth the head.
Marge: Homer, it’s the thought that counts. The moral of this story is, a good deed is its own reward!
Bart: Hey, we got a reward. The head is cool!
Marge: Well then, I guess the moral is, no good deed goes unrewarded.
Homer: Wait a minute! If I hadn’t written that nasty letter we wouldn’t have gotten anything.
Marge: Well, hmm… then I guess the moral is, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Lisa: Perhaps there is no moral to this story.
Homer: Exactly! It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.

Most of the narratives I enjoy do happen to fall under the “a bunch of stuff that happened” heading; I figure that, if someone wants to teach me a moral, they’d save us both a lot of time by just writing it down on an index card and handing it to me than embedding it in 300 pages of elaborately crafted lies.

AC: That brings to mind the Douglas Adams quote I’ve mentioned a time or six: “If I’d wanted to write a message I’d have written a message. I wrote a book.” But I’m not so sure I agree! Another thing I’ve said a time or six is that, if there’s a set of emotions I want to convey, I can try to describe them — virtually impossible — or I can try to create a set of vicarious experiences for you (i.e., a story) that will make you feel the same way. And they might be very different experiences from what originally brought about those emotions in me. Similarly, there’s something to be said for the notion that experience can change minds in a way that reading an index card, or even listening to an eloquent speech, can’t.

Read the whole thing at (Make sure you get to the bottom of the page. And make sure you get to the bottom of his Greenlanders writeup, while you’re at it.)

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