When a few friends from the reading for pleasure group said that they were doing a buddy read of McCullers' Member of a Wedding, I was pushed to join them. While not as highly regarded as her definitive work The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Member of a Wedding is McCullers' tale of coming of age in the south in the 1940s, a story of a misfit girl in need of guidance to navigate the world. Having no female friends or family members to teach her about the birds and the bees, Frankie is perfectly cast as the town's misfit, while Berenice prays that a girl best friend enters her life sooner than later. It is in this context that we meet twelve year old Frankie in the August of her brother's wedding as she plots to leave her home and join her brother on a worldwide adventure through life. This novel allowed me to end my reading year on a positive note as I enjoyed my time with this classic southern author and made for compelling discussions in our small buddy read group. While McCullers' other novels do not feature Frankie Addams, I am looking forward to spending more time with this gifted novelist in the years to come.
It was wonderful to enjoy Carson McCullers writing again. Now I want to read The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.....another book thats been on my TBR list forever by Carson McCullers Themes of loneliness, racial issues, war, and anxiety run through the novel.
Carson McCuller's The Member of the Wedding is my unrequited love story in my stable of hos: those lyrically intimate classical works I've read that stayed with me because they were confiders of sorts, someones I could go to and find some sort of explanation inside, a relating that was more than good enough of itself. It's often uncomfortably painful in the don't-wanna-be-reminded-of-that-wasn't-I-reading-to-forget-that-in-the-first-place way.) I collected them, books like Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and held them in reserve when it got to be too much. Still, I've yet to read anything else that quite stands out to me as much when I think about unrequited love. I read this for the first time when I was fourteen and then again in 2007.
I read a lot about loneliness. Overwhelmingly, the books that I gravitate towards seem to have at least some thread of loneliness. As others have pointed out, the ending feels oddly tacked-on and almost ruins the perfect tension in the first 90% of the book.
Of course she doesn't know what the battle is and that is one of the beauties of this novel...Frankie's inability to articulate even to herself what is wrong. Time in August could be divided into four parts: morning, afternoon, twilight, and dark. It was the hour when sparrows gathered and whirled above the rooftops of the town, and when in the darkened elms along the street there was the August sound of the cicadas. Then at some point the forward movement picked up and did not stop (even when Frankie continued to be in the kitchen with Berenice).
I wonder how many condemned Frankie's father for letting her roam rather than the systematic excision of her mind from her body by the mores of society. There are the usual excuses: lack of mother, lack of white female friends of a common age, the lack of urban space commonly put as the ultimate solution by the North and the South.
Her father has told her shes too old to sleep in his bed, her age mates have formed groups that dont include her, and her only day-to-day company is her six-year old cousin John Henry and middle-aged Berenice who keeps house. I was just like this when I was twelve years old. The relationships and interactions between Frankie and Berenice and John Henry are central. Unlike Frankie his sense of himself is healthy, but like her he is at different times both nice and cruel to her in his childish ways. Although Frankie is not satisfied in her need for membership by her relationship with Berenice, she takes Berenices oft-repeated anecdotes and life-stories to heart, they form the basis of her meagre knowledge about romantic love and sexuality.
Why This Book Matters to Me (This section was added after an epiphany, which prompted me to make my reviews more personal.) This was the first McCullers I read, and one of the first American books I read.
Not only do you see the emotional turmoil of a preteen but you also get the racial tensions in the South and the tension created by the War. We know it is 1944 from the simple line that "Patton is driving the Germans out of France". The narration is fantastic; it is read slowly, with feeling, and it is easy to follow. But the most stupendous books are those of fiction where the writers create a marvelous gem all from NOTHING. They create a tale from assorted words and how they string them together, their imagination and their ability to capture human emotions that we all share. So when I run into astoundingly beautiful writing, and by that I do not mean "pretty" but rather writing that speaks to us all, that has the ability to to pull us out of our own existence and allows us to share common experiences and emotions, now that is something else. Do you remember your preteens, when you didn't feel comfortable in your own skin, when the whole world changed over night and all was frightening?
From 1935 to 1937 she divided her time, as her studies and health dictated, between Columbus and New York and in September 1937 she married an ex-soldier and aspiring writer, Reeves McCullers. There, and in Fayetteville, North Carolina, she wrote her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in the Southern Gothic tradition. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), written at the age of twenty-three, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), and The Member of the Wedding (1946), are the best-known. "I first met Carson McCullers during the war when I was visiting Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith in upstate New York," said Huston in An Open Book (1980).