The Member of the Wedding
by Carson McCullers
"It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways and she was afraid."
These opening sentences of The Member of the Wedding convey the poignancy of the emotional turmoil and loneliness of adolescence felt by Frankie Addams the motherless twelve-year-old heroine of the story.
The book was written in 1946 and is set in small town Georgia during a long sweltering summer. Much of the action (or inaction to be precise) centres round kitchen table conversations between Frankie, Berenice, the black housekeeper and Frankie's six-year-old cousin John Henry. Frankie's father is absent, away at work in his jewellery store. These conversations at times are so banal that they border on the surreal. They consist mainly of Frankie's frustrations, thoughts really, that she voices out loud much to the puzzlement of Berenice and John Henry.
The relationship between all three is odd. While the black woman is obviously a servant (and Frankie can be quite awful to her) Frankie relies on her advice and wisdom which she, Berenice, gives unconditionally. But it's not the advice of a mother and one is acutely aware of this. John Henry is simply used by Frankie because she is lonely but is quite capable of throwing in his tuppence worth of homespun philosophy.
Frankie's brother is about to be married and at last she feels that she will be a member of something and tells just about anybody who'll listen. With no mother to guide her she buys a dress (obviously inappropriate) for the wedding and re-invents herself as F. Jasmine Addams. She is sure she can "pass for sixteen". This leads to an encounter in a bar with a soldier which is so sad, and so typical, of adolescent behaviour that it leaves one feeling very uncomfortable, both for the times as a young girl one remembers these, frankly, dangerous and embarrassing situations and fearful for one's own daughters.
This novel where, ostensibly, nothing happens is made alive and real by Carson McCullers empathy with the characters and I would urge your group to read it. We've all experienced the pain of adolescence (of which it is also painful to be reminded) but the writing is magical and I'm sure the discussion will lead to much reminiscence (and perhaps the need for a big box of tissues).