After reading and enjoying The Mountain Lion, I read a review of someone else who had liked it, but said that The Member of the Wedding was even better. So I checked it out from my library (the kindle version, and how great is it that I can check out a kindle book online, no delays, no car trips?!).
The Member of the Wedding revolves around a 12-year-old girl named Frankie, F. Jasmine, or Frances at different points in the book. We’re in a southern town in 1950. Frankie’s mom has died and she lives with her dad, a busy businessman who is gone a lot, and black family cook Berenice. Her 6-year-old cousin John Henry is usually at the house too.
I could see some similarities between this book and The Mountain Lion — Molly there and Frankie here are both unusual girls. Frankie is a tomboy who is outspoken. You never need to guess what she’s thinking or feeling because she’s just OUT THERE with it all. I can’t relate to that a lot, but I can relate to her living a lot of her life internally, in her head. “She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person …”
Because of her feelings of being lonely and unconnected, she gets excited to be part of her brother’s upcoming wedding. She’s not actually in the wedding, but she is attending, and she builds up this wedding so much that I got nervous, knowing it would be bound to let her down. She dreams of her brother and his fiancee: “I bet they have a good time every minute of the day.” She builds up their future life in another town, and decides that she will go with them after the wedding and live with them (although they don’t know this), because the newlywed couple will be “the ‘we’ of me.” “She loved her brother and the bride and she was a member of the wedding. The three of them would go into the world and they would always be together.”
“This was the summer when Frankie was sick and tired of being Frankie. She hated herself, and had become a loafer and a big no-good who hung around the summer kitchen.” Much of the book happens right in the kitchen, as Frankie, Berenice, and John Henry talk and play cards. Berenice, who doesn’t have children of her own, is a mother figure to these two children and gives them honest advice. To Frankie: “You cozen and change things too much in your own mind. And that is a serious fault.”
Just as Frankie shares her thoughts around the table, Berenice does as well. Here’s an example of her talking about her late husband (the good one; she’d had two duds as well): “Sometimes I almost wish I had never knew Ludie at all. It spoils you too much. It leaves you too lonesome afterward. When you walk home in the evening on the way from work, it makes a little lonesome quinch come in you.”
A big theme of the book is feeling caught or trapped. Frankie feels trapped in her small-town, totally unromantic life. But Berenice feels trapped too: “We all of us somehow caught. We born this way or that way and we don’t know why. But we caught anyhow. I born Berenice. You born Frankie. John Henry born John Henry. And maybe we wants to widen and bust free. But no matter what we do we still caught. Me is me and you is you and he is he. We each one of us somehow caught all by ourself.” One thing that occurred to me while reading was that, while Frankie bemoans throughout the book that she is alone and not part of a group, she really is: the kitchen table group of her, Berenice, and John Henry. But especially when we are young, it seems that we need to be part of groups of our own choosing.
I loved this little book (160 pages). The writing reminded me of Jean Stafford (The Mountain Lion author), and of Flannery O’Connor (they were contemporaries; O’Connor and McCullers were both southern and wrote southern gothic fiction). Apparently O’Connor wasn’t such a fan of McCullers; interesting. The book was really atmospheric and just tied in well to my introspective bent and enjoyment of thinking about things deeply. The 1952 movie version is good as well and is free on YouTube.
“It was better to be in a jail where you could bang the walls than in a jail you could not see.”