For harried book lovers in search of their next great read, I have a simple word of advice. Read Yates. He’s an extraordinarily gifted writer. Set in New Jersey and New York in the 1930s through the 1970s, The Easter Parade is a tightly woven chronicle of loneliness and despair. From the opening lines of the novel, we learn that “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life…” After their parents divorce, Sarah, the more conventional of the two, marries Tony, a man “as handsome as Laurence Olivier.” They move to the suburbs and have a child a year for three years. They’re unhappy. Tony beats Sarah bloody “once or twice a month for about … 20 years.” Emily, on the other hand, marries only briefly and has no children. She goes to Barnard College and has a number of casual hookups — she loses her virginity to a soldier in Central Park under a rustling tree — and she has some serious long-term relationships as well, one with a bi-sexual seaman who leaves her for another man, another with an impotent philosophy professor, one with a struggling poet past his prime, and lastly one with married man still in love with his estranged wife. The great tragedy of Emily’s life is that she’s not understood by anyone. She’s unappreciated, unknown, unloved. Emily gradually discovers that she’s in a condition of “hopeless and terrible need.” Like her mother at the state hospital, Emily retreats into the safety of memories and fantasies. She emerges only occasionally at the kind words of strangers or, unforgettably, in the closing scene of the novel, when she confronts her beloved nephew about the well-grounded suspicion that her sister Sarah was killed by her husband Tony in a drunken rage. In a story where characters are deeply flawed, it’s only fitting that Emily should exhaust her last reserves in an effort to pry the truth from a nephew whose greatest flaw is his supreme (and serene) self-assurance. Against his confidence and placidity, she has no hope. The past is buried, the opportunity for genuine contact is lost. “I’m almost fifty years old and I’ve never understood anything in my whole life,” she says, tired and spent. A graying ember.