To be like us isn’t easy

Emily Cooke

  • BuyYoung Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker
    NYRB, 185 pp, £8.99, March 2012, ISBN 978 1 59017 577 4
  • BuyCassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
    NYRB, 241 pp, £8.99, September 2012, ISBN 978 1 59017 601 6

In 1962, the daughter of a friend of Dorothy Baker’s went up to her house in Terra Bella, California, to interview the 55-year-old novelist. ‘What is your real purpose in this thing?’ Baker said as the tape began to roll. The interviewer replied that the material might eventually be interesting to literary historians. It’s easy to imagine Baker raising her eyebrows at the answer. She could see why one might want to read interviews with, say, Herman Melville, but couldn’t see the point in being recorded herself. She was, she said, ‘not quite good enough’, or at least not ‘good enough to be considered good’. Her name didn’t rank: she was ‘not one of the good writers of the United States’. Her reputation had followed ‘a steady progression downhill’, and all in all she was ‘very sad and considerably depressed’ about her ‘so-called career’.

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