With delicacy of perception and memory, humour and pathos, Carson McCullers spreads before us the three phases of a weekend crisis in the life of a motherless twelve-year-old girl. Within the span of a few hours, the irresistible, hoydenish Frankie passionately plays out her fantasies at her elder brother's wedding. Through a perilous skylight we ...
With delicacy of perception and memory, humour and pathos, Carson McCullers spreads before us the three phases of a weekend crisis in the life of a motherless twelve-year-old girl. Within the span of a few hours, the irresistible, hoydenish Frankie passionately plays out her fantasies at her elder brother's wedding. Through a perilous skylight we look into the mind of a child torn between her yearning to belong and the urge to run away.
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Has there ever been another coming-of-age novel as lovely as Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding published in 1946? Her portrait of the tall, gawkish, motherless girl Frankie Addams is a true, indelible portrait of adolescent angst: "It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Franklie had become an unjoined person. . .and she was afraid."
During the dog days of summer in a small Southern town, Frankie's only companions at home are Berenice Sadie Brown, a regal African American domestic, and John Henry West, a small, big-kneed boy. Their kitchen conversations are marked by repetition and sameness, an "ugly little tune they sung by heart." Her father, a pale, uncommunicative jeweler, is largely absent, and critical of his daughter when present.
To Frankie, the world feels utterly lifeless, static, and imprisoning, "a green sick dream," and she feels separate from it. The protagonist expresses her feelings in melodramatic terms; she is "sick unto death." Everything she does is wrong and unintended. Like Frankie's summer, McCullers' narrative circles, reiterating motifs, composing a fugue of voices.
Everything changes when Frankie's brother Jarvis announces his plan to marry Janice Evans in Winter Hill. At the sight of the couple, Frankie longs for an impossible union, belongingness, and love: "They are the we of me." The story of the wedding has a "shape like song," that is, order, coherence. Even Winter Hill becomes a romantic image of Northern snow, coolness, otherness.
The novel traces Frankie's initiation into the sordid, unromantic nature of adult reality, but also her mature sense of having "things done. . .by a stranger a long time ago," evolving beyond her former child-self. In the process, she learns about mortality, friendship, "the shock of happiness," and the expectation of love. In the drama of her fear, desire, sadness, apartness, self-invention, and intuition of love as a "thing known and not spoken," Frankie Addams stumbles waywardly off the page, falling directly into the reader's heart.
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