Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's in a Bonnet?

There seem to be more and more websites these days that are using book give-aways to drive traffic to their sites: LibraryThing, BookBrowse, Book Trib to name a few. The books are distributed as the result of a lottery and some of the sites ask you to write a review in exchange for receiving the book. At some point I must have entered one because I received in the mail a free copy of The Easter Parade, a novel by Richard Yates (author of Revolutionary Road).

One of the facilitators that we have had over the years at our book group meetings said to pay particular attention to the opening line of a novel. It makes sense: presumably the author has spent much time to craft this line as his or her best shot at drawing the reader in to the story. That said there are only a few novels whose first lines would be considered truly memorable. (Charlotte reminded us of one of them in her blog of Phillip Lopate’s Two Marriages).

The opening line of this novel pretty much says it all: “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.” The sisters Sarah and Emily were 9 and 5 respectively in 1930 when their parents divorced. There followed a succession of moves with their mother Pookie to different towns and residences throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. (This part including the divorce of his parents seems to have been autobiographical). Emily is our narrator. Though not as physically attractive as her older sister, she is the more intelligent and introspective of the two. As a very broad generalization Sarah takes the role of suburban housewife with a home on Long Island, the three children, a short-lived attempt at writing...while Emily is the single career girl living in the city. Neither life is as it might appear to an outsider or indeed to the other sister.

We follow the sisters for forty years until on the last page Emily says: “I’m almost fifty years old and I’ve never understood anything in my whole life.” Don’t we all have moments like that? To Yates’ great credit when I finished the book I felt almost as emotionally drained by her journey as she was.

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