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Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker

Cassandra at the Wedding (original 1962; edition 2004)

by Dorothy Baker, Deborah Eisenberg (Afterword)

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368729,459 (3.95)70
Title:Cassandra at the Wedding
Authors:Dorothy Baker
Other authors:Deborah Eisenberg (Afterword)
Info:NYRB Classics (2004), Edition: First Printing, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker (1962)

  1. 00
    Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: California in it's prime and it's discontents

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Relaciones de sangre muy difíciles. Formas distintas de luchar por ser tú misma, por madurar y seguir adelante por mucho que cueste.
Nos asomamos a un trozo de realidad arrancado a lo vivo de sus protagonistas, sin juzgar ni encontrar soluciones bienpensantes, esperando que su vida tome algún rumbo "normal" aunque no te queda ninguna seguridad de ello.
( )
  naturaworld | Aug 12, 2016 |
“So go, girl. We should have been one person all along, not two.”

Cassandra at the Wedding was Dorothy Baker’s final novel – published in 1962 – it is a story far darkly, comic than the deceptively cosy title might lead one to expect. I actually have Young Man with a Horn tbr too – which was Bakers first novel. I wondered whether I should have started with that novel – but something about this appealed far more – it is one I have heard only good things about. The narrative voice is unforgettable – a character that is at once sympathetic and disturbing – Cassandra Edwards is the first person narrator of two of the three sections of the novel – the middle section being narrated by her sister Judith. Right from the beginning there is something in Cassandra’s tone that alerts us to trouble ahead.

“ I think all the time I was sizing up the bridge that the strong possibility was I’d go home, attend my sister’s wedding as invited, help hook-and-zip her into whatever she wore, take over the bouquet while she received the ring, through the nose or on the finger, wherever she chose to receive it, and hold my peace when it became a question of speaking now or forever holding it. I’d go, in all likelihood, and do everything an only attendant is expected to do. I’d probably dance attendance.
I didn’t even know who the groom was beyond that he was a graduate medical student she met in New York, and his name was Lynch, or maybe even Finch. Yes. Finch. John Thomas Finch. Where’d she meet him – Birdland?”

Cassandra is an identical twin; eleven minutes older than her sister Judith. On a hot day in June – the longest day in fact – she shuts up her apartment in Berkeley, California and sets off for her family’s ranch. Her sister Judith is getting married, and Cassandra’s attendance is required. Tidying away her thesis and covering up the piano she shared with her sister while they still lived together – Cassandra gets into the Riley that was once her mother’s for the five hour drive to the wedding she has no wish to go to. In the back is a dress she bought on her grandmother’s account to wear at the wedding Cassandra doesn’t believe should be taking place. The sisters have always been close – barely spending time apart – they had originally shared the apartment in Berkeley – until Judith suddenly decided to move to New York. In the apartment the Bösendorfer piano stands as a symbol of their tie to each other.

Cassandra is a brilliant graduate student, seemingly living on her nerves, she is miserable since her sister left for New York – convinced as she is that the two of them together only make one whole. The twins had previously little need of other people, they had existed very much for each other, Judith’s departure for New York was devastating for Cassandra – impacting on her health, her work and her emotions. Cassandra is hell-bent on sabotaging the wedding, barely eating, drinking far too much, she’s in a bitterly conniving mood when she sets off for the Sierras.

Cassandra is gay – she later tries to explain her feeling about men to her sister Judith.

“With men I feel like a bird in the clutch of a cat, terrified, caught in a nightmare of confinement, wanting nothing but to get free and take a shower.”

So struggling a little with her sexuality her grief over her mother’s death; a writer to whom Cassandra fears she is unable to live up to, wrestling with her thesis and missing her sister from whom she has been unused to being apart – Cassandra has become very disturbed. She has been consulting a therapist – and carries with her in a white clutch bag – sleeping pills and uppers. Growing up the two girls – very much at their mother’s instigation – were encouraged to develop their own identity – she had refused point blank to ever allow the girls to dress alike. Only now as Cassandra considers the possibility of Judith moving further away from her – severing the whole she believes them to be – she seems to be losing a sense of her own identity. On the road to her family home – Cassandra stops for a while at a roadside bar – catching sight of herself in the mirrored surface behind the bar.

“By a firm act of will I forced the face between the shelves to stop becoming Judith’s and become mine. My very own face – the face of a nice girl preparing to be a teacher, writing a thesis, being kind to her grandmother, going home a day early instead of a day late or the day I said, and bringing something decent to wear. But it can give me a turn, that face, any time I happen to catch it in a mirror; most particularly at times like this when I’m alone and have to admit it’s really mine because there’s no one else to accuse.”

Judith is engaged to a young doctor Jack Finch; the wedding is due to be quiet – just Judith, Cassandra their philosophy professor father, grandmother and the groom himself. Noticeably absent of course their mother Jane, who died three years earlier – the family ranch, however is filled with her presence. It’s only upon Cassandra’s arrival at the ranch that we meet the rest of the family – the twins’ hard drinking father – who retired from teaching unconventionally young – their well-meaning maternal grandmother, who is keen to feed, and who appears to have replaced her daughter as the mother figure in the household.

With Jack’s arrival the following day expected, and Judith planning to go and pick him up from the airport – Cassandra begins at once to try and put a spoke in the wheel. She shows herself to be selfish, reckless, self-absorbed, bossy and overly reliant on her sister. The reader may not always like her much but surely we can all sympathise with her misery – heartbroken as she is at what she fears she is losing. Baker throws some wonderfully comic touches into this short novel – so that this story never becomes too dark – there’s lightness and shade and some funny one liners – generally spoken by Cassandra – who I really rather loved, despite everything.

This is a wonderfully subtle novel – although it has a very definite sixties setting – there is a classic timelessness to it which prevents it ever feeling dated. I’m very glad I began with Dorothy Baker’s final novel – for me it feels as if it was a great place to start. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Feb 14, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote Kasthu | Aug 1, 2011 |
I enjoyed this very-California, mid-20th-century novel of manners, if there is such a thing. Cassandra, a doctoral student at Berkeley and an identical twin, opens the book on the way home to the family ranch Northern California for her sister Judith's wedding. Judith, a classical pianist, is about to marry a young doctor she met in New York in a small family wedding, unless Cassandra can convince her otherwise.

This is a tale of an eccentric family -- a philosophizing, early retired father who thrives on brandy; a conventional and sweet, if ineffectual, grandmother; a successful novelist and screenwriter mother, whose presence remains in the house although she has died, and the twin sisters with highly refined tastes and imaginations, as Cassandra insists:

"Take it on faith -- we're special.... Who else could have had our mother for a mother and our father for a father? Who else do you know that drives a Riley and owns a Boesendorfer, or even knows what they are. We didn't join Job's Daughters, or go steady with some clod, or live with the Alpha Kappa Thetas, because we never spoke that language or thought in those terms. How could we? We can start living where others imaginations fail."

In clumsier hands, this story could be excruciating, but Baker's touch is light, skillful and amusing. She's not writing about a dysfunctional family, but one rather defined by its quirks and possibilities, as is Cassandra herself. ( )
4 vote janeajones | Aug 18, 2010 |
Reading this book, I couldn't help but think of 'Catcher in the Rye', which I hated, and how much better this is. Now, 'Cassandra at the Wedding' is not very similar to 'Catcher in the Rye', but they share enough similarities for my mind to be stuck on the comparison.

The other comparison I made was with the documentary 'The Bridge', which captures and explores people killing themselves by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book. I can only imagine how exciting it would have been to read it in the early 60's when it was first published, and I wonder, now, if anyone has bothered to add it to the canon of LGBT fiction, where it belongs ( )
2 vote inaudible | Jan 24, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy Bakerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eisenberg, DeborahAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turner, LowriIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
I told them I could be free by the twenty-first, and that I'd come home the twenty-second.
It had more to do with belonging to a tradition in music and staying in it and working at in in any capacity you can fit into - playing what's being written, and what's been written, composing too if you want to and can, but mostly trying to keep it alive and separate the chaff from the grain and keep them separate. Know which is which, and care, and that's a life work.
He quit teaching because it irked him to have to meet appointments - to shave by the clock and put on a tie and arrive at a particular place at a particular time over and over. It wasn't that way in Athens. A teacher in the golden age could stay in his bath however long he happened to wish to, and when he got out, some youth would be there with a towel and dry him off, and by the time he was dry and robed, the work would have got around and the young men would have gathered to question and to be questioned and end up convinced that the unexamined life is not worth living. We were raised that way ourselves; our father was Socrates, we were the youth and we sat at his feet.
Either this or that. But. But I'd never try to have it both ways, I'd never, I swear I'd never choose to come home with a stranger and enact before our household gods the brutal double ceremony of the destruction of Athens and the founding of something that could never at its best equal it. Or come anywhere near it. Or be spoken of in the same breath. From heights you can only descend. Ask anyone. Ask me, preferably.
I hadn't thought about it as being anything peculiar, because I was going home, and one of the things about belonging somewhere is that you can go there without permission because it's where you belong. But did I? Did I belong, at such a time, where plans were being made and questions of policy being decided, matters of great moment like for example do they have sterling silver of stainless steel?
But I seldom get praised for the hard things I do, and I do some of the hardest things. Things like waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night, all all alone except when I'm with someone; and it's getting harder and harder for me to be really with anyone.
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"By the time I went back into the bedroom I had my mind made up. As I said, it wasn't really hard, because I couldn't stand what was going to happen, and I knew I couldn't, not now, keep it from happening. So go, girl. We should have been one person all along, not two..."
It is the hottest June 21st since 1912, and the longest day of the year. Casandra Edwards-tormented, intelligent, mordantly witty - leaves her doctoral thesis and her Berkeley flat to drive through the scorching heat to her family's ranch. There they are all assembled: her philosopher father smelling so sweetly of five-star Hennessey, her kind, fussy grandmother, her beloved, her identical, her inseparable (soon to be separated) twin sister Judith. For the occasion is Judith's marriage to a young Connecticut doctor; though it won't be if Cassandra can help it ...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860682447, Paperback)

"I'm not, at heart, a jumper; it's not my sort of thing...I think I knew all the time I was sizing up the bridge that the strong possibility was I'd go home, attend my sister's wedding as invited, help hook-and-zip her into whatever she wore, take the bouquet while she received the ring, through the nose or on the finger, wherever she chose to receive it, and hold my peace when it became a question of speaking now of forever holding it." It is the hottest June on record and the longest day of the year. Cassandra Edwards -tormented, intelligent, mordantly witty - leaves her graduate studies and her Berkeley flat to drive through the scorching heat to her family's ranch. There they are all assembled: her philosopher father, smelling sweetly of five-star Hennessy; her kind, fussy grandmother; her beloved, identical twin sister Judith, who is about to be married - unless Cassandra can help it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:40 -0400)

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NYRB Classics

3 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 1590171128, 1590176014, 159017612X

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