Jessica's Reviews > Cassandra at the Wedding

Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
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Apr 28, 2009

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Read in April, 2009

Tightly written with a very well-drawn protagonist, Cassandra at the Wedding is worth reading even if it is a bit dated in some (not all) of its psychological themes. I almost didn't read it for suspicion of any writer who would name her protagonist "Cassandra," but you get over it.

The premise is that Cassandra, one half of identical twins, is preparing to attend - and hoping to thwart - the sudden wedding of her sister Judith. Cassandra is gay (although references to this are oblique, probably because this was first published in 1962). She also feels that she and Judith are meant to spend their lives together in symbiosis, living wholly outside of social convention. The twins had always resisted dressing alike, in line with their intellectual parents' insistence that it would inhibit their development as individuals. Now Judith was marrying, partly in an effort to sever herself from the tortured Cassandra, plunging instead into her wifely role. But you get the sense that Judith loses her individuality either way - either to Cassandra or to convention, while Cassandra, despite her obsessive dependence on Judith, can envision alternative ways to live and exist and is probably the only one of the two who really developed the kind of independence of thought her parents valued.

She's also nuts. In novelistic tradition, Cassandra's marginal way of thinking is partly expressed as insanity, and the barriers to living as she would want to does make her a danger to herself (and irritating / infuriating at times). But she is smart and wry and charming, too, and a character you want to get to know.

Also ubiquitous in the book is the easy materialism in which this family thrives - mom was a writer and dad's a philosopher who retired early from academia. They drink top-shelf booze, drive fancy cars, and spend quite a lot of time in the large swimming pool out back. Not quite sure where this fits in, but no one in the story seems too conflicted about it.

The best thing about Cassandra at the Wedding may have been discovering the New York Review Books series, published by the NY Review of Books, which has revived what appears to be a fine selection of writing that was widely read and viewed as important when it was published but has fallen out of publication. I'll definitely be picking up others from this series.
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