It seems that every once in a while living writers pick a dead writer to gather around and champion, and this was definitely the case with Richard Yates around the turn of the millenium. I attended a reading by Richard Ford, where he extolled Yates’s brilliance. Then I saw that Richard Russo had written a great introduction to the reissue of Revolutionary Road. (Something about that first name Richard?) Clearly Yates was a post-WWII voice to be reckoned with, and so I did what most first time readers of this poet of anomie do — I read the short stories and his first novel and considered myself an expert. His later novels, after all, are dismissed by most critics. Even Yates said, “I’m one of these writers who had the misfortune to write his best book first.”
I love Revolutionary Road, but I want to argue against these critics, including Yates. He wrote at least two other masterful novels, the unremitting Cold Spring Harbor, and the strangely nimble but devastating epic, The Easter Parade.
The Easter Parade is about two sisters. Their early lives seem the familiar stuff of Yates’s short stories, but once they hit puberty and stumble into adulthood, the novel stretches its wings. The women’s lives split — one has the nuclear family in Long Island, the other the career in Manhattan — and Yates, as he’s so good at, both sketches in these categories and then turns them on their head, shaking all the change from their pockets.
I bought this book on a tip from another writer (thanks, Pete), and I could barely put it down — even in the bookstore. I read it in two sittings. How could such friendly prose contain such dark depths? It’s the mystery and the genius of this writer who — whatever he believed about himself — continued to gain mastery as an artist, even after his brilliant first book.