The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers(1917-1967) was born in Georgia , USA - and is identified with a very highly regarded group of white Southern women writers of the early/mid twentieth century including Katherine Porter, Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty. All of these women are particularly fine writers of both short stories and novels and add a special dimension to our understanding of the social Southern experience of the time, including domestic race relations. The above four are all well worth reading - I like Eudora Welty and would recommend her but Carson is a special favourite of mine and I am very happy to introduce this gem of a novel. By the way these four are referred to as the Southern Gothic Writers - which I imagine comes from the similar story backgrounds and settings and the fact that there is often a seemingly ominous feel to the short stories especially. Carson , who has written short stories, is best known for her novels several of which are regarded in American literature as masterpieces, particularly the one we are reading and , "The Heart is a lonely hunter" and "Ballad of Sad Cafe" - all of which were made into films.

"The Member of the Wedding" takes place for the most past over a couple of days in a small Southern town in the United States. It was published in 1946 and was also a very successful play as well as film starring Julie Harris. It is a simple plot about an imaginative precocioius girl of 12 years who fantasises that she can escape her humdrum life as she sees it by teaming up with her brother and his new bride on a grand adventure tour of the world - hence the title. Frankie imagines she is a part of their lives and they will want to take her with them as they start off from the wedding. Read in one way it is a novel about escape by an immature person who wants glamour in her life - a novel about adolescent misunderstanding and just reading the world wrongly . As such it sounds overly simple but what sets this novel on another plane is the imaginative range of the telling and its insights; the three main characters and their intense exchanges around the kitchen table and the dark humour and drama which is beautifully worked through by this very fine writer. Frankie is a real character in her own right - not a charicature.

The novel explores 'connectedness" via the thoughts and conversations of the three main character, Frankie Addams ; the coloured housekeeper and minder of the motherless Frankie- Berenice Sadie Brown and a six year old cousin John Henry West. These are such memorable people by the time you have finished the book that , it is not a cliche to say, you feel you know them. The three share an evening meal and talk but also Frankie has a few adventures in the town - one of which is troubling with a soldier from a nearby camp .

All the dimensions in this novel are strong - the atmosphere in the town, the weather, the ambient sounds , the domestic arrangements and the meal and details like the inappropriatness of the clothes Frankie has chosen for the wedding . The dialogue is cleverly interwoven with Frankie's thoughts especially at the memorable kitchen meal of the three on the night before the wedding . Frankie in simple terms makes a fool of herself at the reception and we see it coming . But Frankie is not really alone - she is supported by her caring adults - her father and Berenice and moves on as most adolescents do .

The book is full of memorable sequences - I think of the piano tuner in a nearby house - the significance of this sequence is the affect the sound of the ascending notes as the piano tuner does his work has on the three conversationalists. The passages where the author has Frankie helping out a monkey and his grinder minder down town is tender and full of wonder. Perfect descriptions abound - like "A jazz sadness quivered her nerves" and when Frankie goes into a down town bar for the first time she notes "the beery odour reminded her of a room where a rat has died behind a wall".

The race relations are handled without sentimentality and are salutary to read. Sadie is a pivotal character in the book from various viewpoints not the least of which is her open discussion on the way she would like the world to be - the connectedness theme again. Little John Henry is a well described charater too . They are each very important to the strength of the book.

I recommend this strongly for the brilliance of the writing and psychological exploration. It is a small treasure and a very strong work . I hope you will enjoy it.