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Review: Cassandra at the Wedding, by Dorothy Baker


Pages: 241
Original date of publication: 1962
My edition: 2004 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: found it through the VMC list
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, April 2011


Cassandra Edwards is a French literature graduate student at Berkeley, who returns to her childhood home for her twin sister’s wedding. She loves her sister Judth fiercely, and although she’s never met her fiancée, Cassandra is determined to stop the wedding from happening.

This is a very difficult novel to explain, because although short, and taking place over the course of a couple of days, there’s a lot going on. Cassandra is one of the oddest people I’ve run into in literature in a long time; although the book is told mostly in the first person from her point of view, I’ve never seen a character who is less self-aware. There are also a number of contradictions to Cassandra’s personality, which makes her an intriguing character. For example, if she loves her sister so much, then why is she hell-bent on ruining her happiness? Judging from what happens on the day of the wedding, it’s clear that Cassandra is an incredibly selfish person too, which should make it easy for the reader to dislike her; instead, I get a feeling of pathos when I read Cassandra’s side of the story. The novel is also told from the point of view of Judith, who is a far less interesting character, but she has a number of insights into Cassandra’s character that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. As I’ve said before, Cassandra is incredible unself-aware; it’s amazing how the author can tell us things about Cassandra that she isn’t aware of herself. I won’t get into details for fear of spoiling things, but there’s a major bombshell about Cassandra that’s revealed towards the end that I thought was really well done (although this book was written in the ‘60s, so it’s not explicitly said).

The family itself is also very interesting—besides Judith there’s their father, a perpetually drunk philosophy professor; the grandmother; and Judith’s fiancée, the ideal Jack Finch. Also present, but not physically, is the twins’ mother, who has died a couple of years before this novel takes place. If you’re expecting lots of plot, there isn’t much, so part of the strength of this book lies in the characters and how dysfunctional they all seem sometimes.

Comments

Aarti said…
I had much the same reaction as you to this one. I know many really bizarre, un-self-aware people, and Cassandra is very much like all of them. Fascinating, but NOT someone I want to spend much time with!
I've been wanting to read this book for a really long time (ever since I read a review on the blogosphere). Haven't yet, but you have reminded me that I should probably pick it up soon-ish. I have about four weddings to attend between now and the end of the year, so... maybe it will put me in the mood :)

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