Dorothy Baker (1907–1968) was born in Missoula, Montana, in 1907 and raised in California. After graduating from UCLA , she traveled in France, where she began a novel and, in 1930, married the poet Howard Baker. The couple moved back to California, and Baker completed an MA in French, later teaching at a private school. After having a few short stories published, she turned to writing full time, despite, she would later claim, being “seriously hampered by an abject admiration for Ernest Hemingway.” In 1938, she published Young Man with a Horn, which was awarded the prestigious Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942 and, the next year, published Trio, a novel whose frank portrayal of a lesbian relationship proved too scandalous for the times; Baker and her husband adapted the novel as a play in 1944, but it was quickly shut down because of protests. Her final novel, Cassandra at the Wedding (also published as an NYRB Classic), examined the relationship between two exceptionally close sisters, whom Howard Baker asserted were based on both Baker herself and the couple’s two daughters. Baker died in 1968 of cancer.
This book, loosely inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, is widely regarded as the first jazz novel, and it courses with the verve and swing of the sound that defined an era. It is the story of Rick Martin, a prodigy whose dedication to music cannot save him from self destruction. “Got a kid who’s into music? This is the book. Interested in the Jazz Age? Ditto. Or just looking for a short novel that you can’t put down? Here you go.”—Jesse Kornbluth
Dorothy Baker’s fascinating tragicomic novel follows an unpredictable course of events in which Cassandra appears variously as conniving, self-aware, pitiful, frenzied, absurd, and heartbroken—at once utterly impossible and surprisingly sympathetic.