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A Summer in Suspension, Waiting for Life's Start

Cover Image: 'The Member of the Wedding'

There is a book I love dearly. So dearly, I have read it at least three times, if not 10. Always in the summer. The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. It was originally published in 1946, and I consider it a small miracle.

Twelve-year-old Frankie has absolutely nothing to do this "green and crazy" summer but wait for the wedding of her older brother. Frankie wants a much larger life than the one she has in this small Southern town, and she knows when her brother marries, her new big life will begin. Because of course she will join her brother and his bride and the three will live together, possibly in exotic Alaska. Nobody has told her this is not the way a wedding works. A wedding is about two, not three. Certainly not an itchy younger sister.

The pages themselves nearly sweat, and there is humidity between the lines. You feel Frankie's flush-faced boredom and impatience, her melancholy sense that not enough is happening, not nearly enough. And when you turn the pages, you can almost hear the crickets and the cicadas.

I don't want to give too much away, but I will say this: The book is profoundly touching, deeply familiar, funny, and it is sad. Some people might not like the idea of a "beach read" that is even remotely sad. Some people want only stories of parties and cruise ships and dates with mysterious strangers. Well, this book happens to include a date with a mysterious stranger — and not only that, but a beautiful gown.

Every word in this brief novel is the only possible word that could have been used. And every line is exactly right. There is not one tiny bit of fat anywhere within these pages, and that skinny fact should make some people, at least, consider it. The Member of the Wedding transports you to a steamy, sultry childhood summer where everything is green and overgrown, and daylight lasts almost too long, and there is no escape from the heat. This is a book from a time in America when books were not just read, but revered. And to be so revered, they had to be human achievements, which this book is.

Carson McCullers was, unfortunately, not a man, or else she might now have a line of furniture named after her, too, like Hemingway. Because she's every bit his equal, if not his superior. Way back when, one reviewer said, "Every page is filled with a sense of something having happened, happening, and about to happen. This in itself is a considerable technical feat; and, beyond that, there is magic in it."

And I think that's a nice way to put it. Especially that word "magic." Any season that gives us fireflies — little sparks that fly around and enchant even the most jaded of us — should have, for its book, something that is a little bit magic.

You Must Read This is produced and edited by Ellen Silva.

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Augusten Burroughs