Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"The Member of the Wedding" by Carson McCullers

Whew. I'm not really sure what to say about this one. It was on the list of "How did I miss this in school?!" that I've been working my through. I have to say, I'm not sure why Ms. McCullers is considered a classic kind of author, but maybe it's just this particular book. She also wrote "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" and that one may be better.

The basic story is that Frankie Addams wants to run away with her brother and his bride after their wedding. The deeper plot is that Frankie realizes she doesn't fit in, is becoming a young woman (she's 12), and is trying to determine who she is. This is literal in a sense; she is "Frankie" in Part One, "F. Jasmine" in Part Two, and "Frances" in Part Three. Most of the action occurs in the kitchen of the Addams house, a location where Frankie, her cousin John Henry, and the housekeeper/cook Bernice sit during the dog days of summer counting down to the wedding itself.

It's really difficult to describe just exactly what the book is about. I have to admit I went to Amazon.com and read some of those reviews, hoping to get an idea of what I was missing. Well, seems a lot of other people missed it too, as most did not care for the book, either. The people who did like it called a wonderful coming-of-age tale and used words like poignant and heartbreaking. Uh, sorry, still not getting it.

Here's what I did get. Frankie was one of the more unpleasant characters I've come across in a while. She is mean, sullen, and wants everything her way, which, OK, is probably typical of a lot of kids her age. But she exhibits confusing behavior, so much so that I'm not really sure what has happened before the action in the book. She alludes to a "sinful" incident in a garage of a boy she liked, but it's never made clear if she was raped; it's possible that nothing more occured than some heavy petting that she later regrets. In Part Two, she is dressed nicely and wandering around town telling all how she will go to the wedding and never come back, living instead with her brother and his bride, and how they will have wonderful adventures. During this outing, she enters a bar, talks up a sailor, goes up to his room, and this time it's made clear there would have been a rape, if she had not escaped the room. If this had really happened to her earlier, why would she feel comfortable enough to go off with the sailor? The earlier event with the boy seems to have happened not that long ago - why is she comfortable roaming around by herself? In addition, she has her cousin, John Henry, spend the night and sleep in the same bed as her, where she strokes his stomach and licks his neck. Uh, what??? It was and still is confusing stuff.

It's also not clear how Frankie feels about the wedding. At first, I thought it was her brother that she was in love with, that she didn't want him to leave. But that felt wrong; he's much older than her and has been stationed in Alaska with the army. At one point, Bernice tells Frankie that she is in love with the wedding itself, which felt more correct. But then, wouldn't she just enjoy the party itself? Her whole goal is to leave her small town behind and run off with her brother and the bride. Maybe she has fallen in love with the idea of a new life. She certainly wouldn't be the first person to want to reinvent herself in a new place.

Overall, I can't say I recommend this book, only because I personally found it so confusing. And, quite honestly, boring. Others think it's fabulous and a must-read. Only you, dear reader, can make that decision for yourself!

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