The member of the wedding
Frankie Addams is 12, and like most 12 year old kids she feels a sort of disconnect with the world – she’s outgrowing old friends and hasn’t found new ones yet and she doesn’t really belong. It happened that green and crazy summer – when her closest companions were a black maid, Berenice, and her 6 year old cousin, John Henry. Very much in the “coming of age” tradition, we experience a few weeks through Frankie’s eyes – her fights with Berenice, her thoughtless and sometimes hurtful words, born out of teenage confusion and most of all, her love for a wedding.
But it’s not just any wedding – it’s her older brother’s wedding, taking place in Winter Hill (real tiny town in Texas?) which – by name & distance (60 km, really) seems like a magical wonderland. For more than a week Frankie fantasizes over how the bride & groom will take her along and how, the 3 of them, will start a new life and travel all over the world. Of course, when the day comes, her disappointment is fierce and prompts her to try and run away from home.
It’s really about searching yourself, about growing up, trying to fit in and never quite making it (her trying to change her name, her wishing she’d be half boy half girl; her half-hearted, half-unknowing attempt at a promiscuous maturity with the red haired soldier) – all these make it very easy to relate. (those were a lot of halves, weren’t there? 😛 ) After all, being a teenager is universally hard, isn’t it?
Critics have pointed out (or at least that’s what wikipedia says) that to view the novel as just about growing up is to simplify it. But other themes – the search for sexuality (again, the soldier episode, the half man/half woman) or for racial equality (Berenice dreaming of a world where all would be looked upon the same) – while present, to me they seem to blend in the background. At the time it was written (1946) it may have meant more, but now they are nothing but timid references. Frankie’s summer of discontent, and more importantly Ms McCuller’s insight, are, to me, what really make this novel.
Oh, also, fun fact 😀 (fun, for anyone who loves Pulp/Jarvis Cocker) Jarvis’s song, Big Julie starts with the first couple of phrases from the book.