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mercoledì 16 maggio 2012

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers, again. I finished this wonderful novel yesterday and liked it even more than The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

The Member of the Wedding is McCullers's third novel, first published in 1946. It is set in a small town in the south of the United States in the 40's, and it examines a painful and crucial turning point in the life of a very young adolescent struggling to find her own identity, her place and aim in the world. It has a very clear plot, yet discussing it somehow means to violate it. That is why I will just hint at it and then leave you with some passages from the novel itself.

The narrative is divided in three parts, and in each part the main character is called a different version of her own name: in the beginning she is Frankie, the familiar pet name, a reminder of childhood still painfully stuck to her flickering identity. Then she is F. Jasmine, where the boundaries between reality and inner world are blurred. In the end, she is simply and plainly Frances, her own name, naked and cold as reality itself.

Frankie is scared. She feels alone and disconnected, wished to be anyone but her own self. She can't share the burden of her feelings with anyone. Her mother died when she was born, her father is a distant figure. She spends the hot summer days with her little cousin John Henry and with Berenice, a coloured woman who takes care of her and the house. Berenice is strong, warm, goodhearted, reliable, patient. A source of balance and healthy reasoning, and Frankie loves her, though she is often annoyed with her.
Frankie has never seen the snow and she fantasizes of cold, frozen landscapes as the sun burns and glares on the streets.
The first part of the novel focuses on Frankie's disquiet, until she finds an illuminating solution: she is not alone, she belongs to her brother Jarvis and his fiancée Janice, who are going to marry soon. J. and J., Ja and Ja. That is why she wraps her new self with the matching name Jasmine. Her brother and his bride are the missing link, the connection to life, the meaning and the answer. She is determined to run away with them after the wedding, never to come back. As Berenice points out, she's in love with the wedding itself, and here I have to stop because writing more would mean to spoil something beautiful.

Here are some quotes...

Very early in the morning she would sometimes go out into the yard and stand for a long time looking at the sunrise sky. And it was as though a question came into her heart, and the sky did not answer. Things she had never noticed much before began to hurt her: home lights watched from the evening sidewalks, an unknown voice from an alley. She would stare at the lights and listen to the voice, and something inside her stiffened and waited. But the lights would darken, the voice fall silent, and though she waited, that was all. She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening, or staring up into the sky: alone. She was afraid, and there was a queer tightness in her chest.

Or after the pale spring twilights, with the smell of dust and flowers sweet and bitter in the air, evenings of lighted windows and the long drawn calls at supper-time, when the chimney swifts had gathered and whirled above the town and flown off somewhere to their home together, leaving the sky empty and wide; after the long twilights of this season, when Frankie had walked around the sidewalks of the town, a jazz sadness quivered her nerves and her heart stiffened and almost stopped

"Have you ever seen any people that afterward you remembered more like a feeling than a picture?"

And just at that moment a horn began to play. Somewhere in the town, not far away, a horn began a blues tune. The tune was grieving and low. It was the sad horn of some coloured boy, but who he was she did not know. Frankie stood stiff, her head bent and her eyes closed, listening. There was something about the tune that brought back to her all of the spring: flowers, the eyes of strangers, rain.

She opened her eyes, and it was night. The lavender sky had at last grown dark and there was slanted starlight and twisted shade. Her heart had divided like two wings and she had never seen a night so beautiful.

And all of a sudden it seemed to F. Jasmine that she saw her father for the first time, and she did not see him as he was at that one minute, but pictures of the old days swirled in her mind and crossed each other. Remembrance, changing and fast, made F. Jasmine stop still and stand with her head cocked, watching him both in the actual room and from somewhere inside her.

It was the hour when the shapes in the kitchen darkened and voices bloomed.

2 commenti:

  1. One of my favorite books ever and one I've re-read several times since high school - always keeps me interested. I just read on another blog that the audio book version has just been re-released narrated by Susan Saradon and I'm really interested how her voice would interact with this text. There's a featured review of the audio text next Saturday on The Book Report -- its a great literary AM talk radio show I started following on WIND in Chicago last year and I keep up via the streamed shows on their website. I love that The Book Report always focuses on audio books and the host, Elaine Charles, just adds so much information.

  2. Hi, thanks for your comment and for your interesting tips. Sorry for my late reply, I went a week to Italy to visit my family and just a few days after there were those earthquakes you probably saw on TV. We live exactly there so it was not fun. Changing subject.... I truly like Carson McCullers and I want to read her short fiction next, The Ballad of the Sad Café. Have you read it? If even in novels she can be so evocative, her short stories must truly be small treasures!