Monday, June 13, 2016
Here Comes the Bride: Cassandra at the Wedding
The Cassandra of the title is travelling to her childhood home to attend her twin sister Judith's wedding. She is not happy about it.
Nine months earlier Judith left the apartment they shared to pursue her musical career. Cassandra was devastated. She started seeing a therapist, but she believed that Judith would come back and they would continue their lives together. Forever. Just the two of them. Now Judith is getting married.
Cassandra doesn't really know what she's going to do once she gets there. Will she let this wedding happen or do whatever she can to stop it? Unable to decide, she starts drinking and, well, stuff happens.
Dorothy Baker has set up an interesting situation. Twins, identical twins, who outwardly did everything they could to show the world they were two separate people. Inwardly, they struggle with their identities. Cassandra sees them as one person. Without Judith, she falls apart. She doesn't know what to do with herself. Judith is the first to break out, she wants to be her own person. Is getting married the way to do it? I don't know, but that's her choice. Cassandra tries to bring them back together and when that doesn't work, does something desperate.
Then there is the family. The twins' parents were intellectuals who preached solitude. The father is an alcoholic, but the kind that is really only a harm to himself. He doesn't have a job, and sits around with a whiskey philosophizing all day. Jane, their mother, was a writer and her career is the reason they have a big ranch house with an Olympic sized pool in California and the means to go to a good university. Rounding out the family is the grandmother Rowena who lives in her own world where everyone behaves properly and no one does anything unpleasant. She's sweet, but unhelpful. She's also obsessed with the girls' twinness. The family is a fortress against the world and they don't have any relationships outside it. Judith's fiance is the first.
Complicating things further is Jane's death three years earlier. It left a huge hole in the family. Everyone seems a bit lost because of it. Jane did everything for their father, she is Rowena's child. The girls could use her advice.
The book alternates between Cassandra and Judith. I was glad to have Judith's point of view. It's difficult to get a sense of what she wants when seen through Cassandra. Cassandra has the bigger personality. She's witty and smart. She's got a dry sense of humour and an answer for everything. Judith is the ordinary one. She's quiet and reserved. She's "nice." The only interesting thing about her is her musical talent and her most rebellious act is getting married.
Still, you can't help but like them both. They aren't perfect people. Their thoughts don't always make sense. They can be petty. They are complicated like real people. Baker highlights the small similarities that remind us that they share DNA, but they are very different. Judith is content to become a doctor's wife, at least that is what she seems to want. Cassandra is gay and content to live on campus working on her thesis, dating girls her sister doesn't approve of.
Cassandra at the Wedding was written in 1962 and is a time capsule of the era. It's a time when affluent white ladies could buy fancy dresses wrapped in tissue paper at a boutique, and buy wine at Champagne stores. Girls like Cassandra and Judith attend schools like Berkeley and Julliard, and have friends who are "painting now" after giving up guitar. It's pre-sexual revolution and the hippie movements. Their drugs are alcohol and Benzedrine.
I know I'm writing a lot about a short novel (about 225 pages), but I love these kinds of books. I like walking around in people's heads and seeing how they view the world. Cassandra at the Wedding is a character study of two sisters. It's the kind of book that would be categorized as New Adult if written today: two young women exploring identity and becoming themselves. It's a dramedy. It can be quite dark at times, but there are these absurd moments that lighten the tension. And it's so good! Dorothy Baker is brilliant. I highly recommend it.