Cassandra and Judith Edwards are identical twins. Both brilliant and beautiful; one happily engaged to be married, the other severely depressed. This 1960s psychological drama is an intense read that will bring you into the psyche of both protagonists and show the devastating effects of depression not only on the depressed, but also those around. Brace yourself for something much darker and a great deal more profound than the title suggests.
Cassandra and Judith grow up inseparable in privileged reclusiveness on a Californian ranch. Their father, an aloof philosophy professor with a penchant for brandy, communicates with his children in Latin quotes and philosopher speak. Their grandmother, a kind, cuddly but out of touch presence whose primary goal is to keep everyone happy, mostly on a superficial level. Hovering in the background is the ghost of the deceased mother Jane, a successful author and scriptwriter, who is as elusive in death as she was in life.
The wedding is going to take place at the ranch, but Cassandra, wrecked by jealousy and a feeling of abandonment will do anything to disrupt and destroy. She’s gay and knows that what Judith is going into is beyond her reach (remember this is the 1960s). The trauma of ‘losing’ her sister to a man she has never met but whose name she can’t even say out loud, is just to much for her.
And I knew right now, with the birds picking my brain, why I’d been asked to the wedding. I’d been asked because I could stop it in time, I could stage a last-minute rescue.
There are plenty of unresolved traumas in the Edwards family: the mother’s death, the father’s alcoholism, Cassandra’s homosexuality. It takes a hands-on, proactive approach from outsiders to start the healing.
The book is written in three parts, two parts from Cassandra’s perspective and one from Judith’s. We jump from Cassandra’s fiercely intelligent but confused, selfish and nervy voice crying out for help to Judith’s collected, empathic, calm voice. It’s a punchy and convincing portrayal of a mental break down and an equally moving insight into the collateral damage.
Cassandra at the Wedding is dubbed a tragicomic novel, I have to say I didn’t find it very funny, but that didn’t take away the pleasure of reading it in the slightest. It has been said about this book that it is ‘a lesson in how wisdom is worth more than intelligence’ and sometimes that is indeed the case.
Cassandra at the Wedding is published by New York Review Books, 226 pages.