Cassandra at the Wedding, by Dorothy Baker, is about identical twin sisters Cassandra and Judith Edwards. The two were inseparable growing up, insulated from the rest of the world without any other friends, and planned to move to Paris together after college, until Judith abruptly told Cassandra that before they moved together to Europe, Jude was going to spend a year on her own in New York.
Jude went to New York, met a man and fell in love. Nine months later, Cassandra is on her way home to "the ranch" to serve as the sole bridesmaid at an intimate wedding that she does not want to see happen. She, in fact, wants very much to stop it from happening.
Cassandra at the Wedding takes place over only one weekend, full of family drama, the pressures of being two very different people who look exactly alike, prescription drugs, marriage and much else.
There are many stories written about dysfunctional upper-class families. This family of a wealthy grandmother, two intelligent professor parents (the mother has already passed away) and two twin girls. They do not dislike their wealth; they use it and thoroughly enjoy it. They don't even think about how much things cost. They think instead about how difficult their lives are.
It's hard for me to read books like Cassandra at the Wedding without feeling that the main characters are completely spoiled and somewhat delusional. This was no different. We are in Cassandra's head for two-thirds of the book, and it is one messed-up head. She is a charming and amusing narrator, but one who is absolutely wrapped up in herself. Cassandra is witty and funny and sharp, but beneath it all there runs the string of delusion and self-mockery. She believes she is strong, and a leader, but really she is fragile and cannot survive on her own without Judith as her alter ego. Cassandra doesn't want Judith to get married because then Cassandra will stop existing. "Because an integer can't exist without integrity. That's what we are, together- a whole being, a fabric, a complex- we're completed. And our integrity- well, we need it, and we've got it. We have to fight for it, but we know that."
Judith, on the other hand, is quiet and kind and patient. She was the shadow to Cassandra's spotlight her whole life and it is only when she went to New York that she realized her existence was not inextricably tied to her sister's. That they shared very little in common, really. That she didn't need Cassandra, but that Cassandra needs her, desperately. Judith's narrative section is weary, tired of the drama and just wanting to move on with her life, be happy. Judith has learned how to care about and love other people; Cassandra has not.
And so the story goes, with one pressuring the other, and one trying very hard to stand on her own two feet. It is a dark comedy, full of classical references, wordplay and pain. The book put me in mind of the play August: Osage County in the way it really brings the many complexities of family relationships to light. This was not a long story- just 225 pages- but it is a difficult one to read. There are touches of brilliance and a truly fierce love, but the story also shows just how cloying and unhealthy a very inward and isolated love can be, turning into a dangerous level of dependence.