3 Jul 2012

Review: "Cassandra at the Wedding" by Dorothy Baker

Take one motherless, disillusioned, obsessive, neurotic grad student battling to finish her thesis and trying to come to term with her twin sister's wedding. Add a swimmingpool, a stiff drink, a wedding dress disaster and a whole lot of unspoken tension. Recipe for disaster? So I should think.

Cassandra is going home to her childhood home to celebrate the wedding of her twin sister Judith to a young doctor. It is a joyous occasion for everyone - apart from Cassandra. For her it is a horror story. She and Judith used to do everything together but when Judith met her fiancee what was supposed to be the future was suddenly the past. The possibility that one of them might end up getting married and setting up home with someone else has never crossed Cassandra's mind and when the reader meets her, she is in a state of shock. As the book progresses, Cassandra seems to get more and more erratic and angry, her actions becoming increasingly selfish and destructive at the same time.

"Cassandra at the Wedding" by Dorothy Baker is a classic. It is at the same time funny, heartbreaking, sad, tender and beautiful. Cassandra's difficulty coping with her sister's marriage becomes more and more encompassing until it obliterates her sense of perspective completely. What is so impressive is that even though Cassandra behaves like a selfish, spoiled brat towards her family, her sister, her sister's fiancee, it is impossible not to like her and not to empathize with her.
Dorothy Baker has given her such a strong voice that the reader will not fail to see the story from Cassandra's angle. Even when she is horrible, I still felt for her and that is the strength of this book.

The story itself and Cassandra herself is actually pretty sad. She is so miserable, so unable to find her place in life, yet it is told with a certain cheerfulness. The juxtaposition enhances the misery yet highlights that for everyone around Cassandra, for her immediate family, this is a time for celebration, while for her it is more like a funeral than a wedding and her mourning are a pair of glasses that colours how she sees all the events around her.

At the same time, Cassandra and Judith can be seen as representing a very exciting historical period in American history. Judith follows a traditional pattern, getting married, laying her ambitions aside to devote herself to her husband and let their life be dictated by his career. Cassandra is the modern woman who finds this incredibly difficult to accept and who instead follows her ambitions and her heart. She has no interest in men and actually behaves quite masculine herself at times but she feels out of place and cannot find her way.

Read it if: You like to be challenged by a clever story with realistic and not necessarily likeable characters. If you like a 1960s vibe and reflections on the changing roles of women.

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