#30 of 2011 ▪ Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
Cassandra’s identical twin Judith is getting married. For Cassandra, this is nothing short of abandonment. As she later tells her psychiatrist [in a rare show of straightforwardness], “Take her away and I’m half of whatever we are.” To Cassie, she and her sister are a unit, and she goes to extremes trying to prove it—or, well, seeks to realize this belief when she tries to kill herself on Judith’s bed:
We should have been one person all along, not two, and this way the other once could live it out, possibly with some part of my spirit alive in her to the end of her days to make up for the part of her I might take with me today.
It’s touching, sure, but skewed. But I do understand—they’ve been together most of their lives, until Judith jumped ship 9 months ago. Since then, Cassandra has been falling apart. Or, as the narrative hints, she’s been doing so all along, and only Judith’s presence was keeping her together.
The thing is, we’re not really sure. We’re not sure how to take Cassandra’s love [and extreme dependency, and obsession]—because for most of the novel, Cassandra’s telling the story. And as entertaining and hip and charming as she is, and as ironically tragic as she makes herself out to be, we can’t trust her because she’s only direct under duress.
And so, it’s a relief to us that Judith steps in mid-story. She’s less vibrant than Cassie, true, but more whole somehow. Then again, does she insist on projecting this wholeness because Cassie is so broken? Again, we can never be sure.
“There is only one thing that would help Cassie,” I said, “really save her—and that would be for me to go to pieces in the same way she has.”
It’s a terrible thing to say of the person you supposedly love the most—the person who insists she better the most important thing in your life—but it’s up to Judith to lend as much frankness she can, no matter how short her own narrative lasts within the novel. Someone has to tell the reader, and Cassie, that no matter how intense this love, you’ve got to let go somehow.
Later, Judith gazes at her twin sister—barely revived, saved by Judith’s fiancé*—and thinks, “Why can’t she love someone, the way I love someone? Why can’t she love anybody but me?”
From NYRB Classics. Much fluffy thanks all around.
*Judith’s fiancé, good lord, I’ve forgotten his name. Not least because Cassie deliberately uses the wrong names for him. Petty, childish, yes. But enough about Cassie. I want to talk about—Finch, yes, that’s his surname. Finch, at one point, tells Judith, that he knows Cassie more in some ways—saving her life, and all that. He even tells Cassie, very lightly, that he loves her. Reminds me of a John Updike story of a man who loves one twin, and finds herself [understandably] fascinated by the identical sister. Oh well. This is the story Dorothy Baker barely wrote, excuse me.