Book Fiftysix: Cassandra at the Wedding

Cassandra at the Wedding, Dorothy Baker

Author comparisons are so difficult and loaded. And most of the time they seem entirely unfair. But I'm going to have to agree with the Salinger comparisons here, because it's hard not to read this and think immediately of both The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. You get the troubled but incredibly compelling narrator in Cassandra, who has the bite and humor of Holden, but the story suddenly and surprisingly changes part way through when Judith, Cassie's twin sister picks up the narration, in much the same way Franny and Zooey flip-flops with the first person business. And all these books have, at their cores, a protagonist who is completely coming undone. So, yeah, it's super hard to ignore the similarities, but I would like you to forget I even mentioned it when you pick up this book, which you are going to do because there is no way around its awesomeness.

Nutshell synopsis: Cassandra and Judith are identical twins and have had, perhaps, a relationship that is a bit too close in that for most of their lives they have seemed to be unable to live without one another (and then there's Cassandra's lesbian leanings, which complicates how we see their relationship). They come from a charming family (with a strong history of mental illness) with their now-dead mother being an accomplished writer and their still-alive father an intellectual drunk recluse. In the past year Judith has gone to New York to graduate school to learn to live apart from her sister and has fallen in love with a doctor and has come home to the family's southern California ranch to be married, and Cassandra has come down from Berkeley to see them married, but as we see from her mind's workings, to try to stop the wedding entirely.

And oh, Cassandra! Such a beautiful mess. Being inside her mind is frustrating and delightful and exhausting and fun all at once. She excels at making one see her way and agree with her plans even though you are probably horrified by plans. She has such explanations for her failings and reasons for her alcohol and pill dependency that are as funny as they are alarming. Is it wrong to want to try her orange juice/egg white/"white port wine" (aka vodka) breakfast drink?

And then, when you think you can't take it much longer, Judith steps in to tell her small bit of the story, and while you welcome to break from Cassie's trainwreck of mind, maybe Judith is just a little bit conventional? But it's a perfect balance, really, and you can see how they almost do complete each other and how lost Cassandra will probably be when her other half marries and leaves her alone.

Please, please please read this book. If you like exceptional but un-showy writing and fascinating characters and being immersed in a strange and wonderful family and don't mind being just a little depressed, this is the book for you.

Want to see more NYRB Reading Week reviews? Go here!


Anonymous Mrs.B said...

I love your review. In fact, I'm adding this to my growing NYRB wish list. You actually had me sold with the comparisons with Salinger's books but then I'm also intrigued by the characters and premise you described later. Thanks for joining NYRB Week!

November 12, 2010 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Ara Jane! Hello! Somehow I didn't realise you had a book blog too. HI! Anyways, I am so glad I found your book blog and read this review in particular - this book sounds GREAT, i'm a sucker for the Glass family in particular so anything with a hint of F&Z is going to lure me in hook line and sinker. And I'm the first to admit that depressing books have a strange appeal for me. I'll see if I can get a hold of this one. What a GREAT publisher NYRB is!

November 14, 2010 at 1:43 AM  
Blogger fantaghiro23 said...

Like the others, I was drawn to the book by your comparison with Salinger's works. If this reminds you of Catcher in the Rye in a good way, then it's a book worth reading. But the comparison aside, I love how you outline the relationship and the conflict between the sisters. Will add this to my to-buy list. Thank you for joining the NYRB Reading Week!

November 14, 2010 at 1:52 AM  

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