Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parent’s divorce.The old priest’s advice to the young curate about sermons was:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you have just told them.
In the end like one scrying the lees in the glass of life, the surviving sister says:
’Yes, I’m tired,’ she said. ‘And do you know a funny thing? I’m almost 50 years old and I’ve never understood anything in my whole life.’Telling us:
The mother is ‘Pookie’. Yes, the girls Sarah and Emily are encouraged to call her that. Yates avoids the words peripatetic and peregrination in relation to the movement of Pookie about the various towns where she works in a modest capacity,certainly not as a Realtor which was plan A. The words alluded to and in general all linguistic flourishes are avoided in a controlled prose. Here’s the funeral of the father who departs early in the book:
There wasn’t much of a ceremony at the chapel. An electric organ played, a tired-looking man read a few nondenominational prayers, the casket was removed, and it was over.Pookie is slapdash and approximate and her decline into alcoholism is mapped with precision by Yates who knew that region well. Emily the youngest daughter at Barnard College has come home for the weekend and they both are going to visit Sarah and Tony and their 3 children where they live on Long Island in a clapboard bungalow on the grounds of Tony’s fathers residence. In a nice touch we get a certain amount of real estate information.
Yates creates islands of omission. Though the word ‘snob’ is never used, Pookie is one, and her nerves dealing with Wilson in the big house lead her to babble and get drunk. Emily stays on the sherry which in that family amounts to a temperance drink.
By the time she was ready to leave at last Geoffrey Wilson had to help her to the door. It was getting dark. Emily took her arm - it felt soft and weak - and they made their way past trees and overgrown shrubbery towards the long road to the railroad station.Actually the whole family have a problem with alcohol, even the father, though that information comes from mother and you know how alcoholics worry about other peoples drinking. Over the years the damage accumulates and the grip on things slackens. Clever Emily drifts from relationship to relationship with neurotic men. She has no luck or perhaps it is that the recapitulation of the primal family drama leads her towards older divorced men that trail issues.
I read it through at one sitting. It’s a short book, 225 pages in the Vintage Classics paperback. Now reading it again I find the low key tone just right for everyday tragedy. Excellent.