The wedding that never was

Women disrupting weddings could be an entire sub-genre of fiction both on the page and on screen. In the movies, Julia Roberts with her glorious head of curls tried it in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Nicole Kidman plays the spoiler of happily-ever-afters in Margot at the Wedding. Anne Hathaway gets to play the neurotic sibling in Rachel Getting Married. Then there is the movie Bridesmaids.

More than half a century ago, the writer Dorothy Baker wrote what could have been the template for all these stories of American women behaving badly and acting out among the tasteful flower arrangements and bridesmaids’ dresses. In Baker’s final book, Cassandra at the Wedding, Cassandra Edwards is a brilliant (and miserable) Berkeley student who travels home to her twin sister’s wedding. They had always been close, as twin sisters usually are, but almost a year before the wedding her sister Judith moved out of the apartment they’d been sharing in Berkeley. Judith goes to New York, meets her future husband there, and returns home to California to get married.

Judith’s departure, we learn, has not been good for Cassandra. The one half of her soul has gone and is now likely going to be way out of reach, living a conventional married life. Naturally, she’s unable to cope. There’s excessive drinking. There’s sleeping around. There’s losing too much weight. Plus, she’s a lesbian in a society that is still repressed and orthodox. As she drives to her father’s ranch where the wedding will take place, Cassandra seems pretty much a ticking time bomb about to go off. She’s going to try and stop her sister from marrying and get back what they once had together. A whole, complete life and love that they shared that Cassandra wants again.

Cassandra’s father is a philosophy professor whose closest companion in retirement is cognac (his wife, Cassandra’s mother, has been dead three years when the story begins but haunts it as a ghost).

The most sympathetic character in the book is Cassandra’s grandmother who is practical and direct and knows this is a family that’s breaking apart and she tries her best to hold it together.

Dorothy Baker had written three novels before Cassandra at the Wedding was published in 1962. She was born in Montana and raised in California and studied at UCLA.

When she went to Paris after graduation she met the poet Howard Baker and they married and moved back to California. She went on to get an MA in French and started teaching in a school — teaching, however, was not to be her career in the long term. She quit to take up writing full-time and her first novel was Young Man with a Horn published in 1936 which was a fictional take on the life of jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke. Besides literature and Hemingway, the great passion of Baker’s life was jazz.

Does the world need to read or see another story about women racing against time to stop a marriage from happening? It would be easy to dismiss Cassandra at the Wedding if it had been written with less wit and style. But Baker as a writer had style and wit to spare and it’s all on display here in this book. And as with her third book, Trio, she incorporates themes of same-sex love in this story, too. It may have been written in a different time from ours, but this is a story that doesn’t feel dated at all.

The author is a Bengaluru-based writer and communications professional with many published short stories and essays to her credit.

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