Trio was the second novel for Dorothy Baker (1907-1968). It appeared five years after Young Man with a Horn. Its three-act structure, small cast of characters and profusion of dialog give the book a cloistered theatrical feel. In fact, she and her husband did adapt the story for the stage, and the play had a two-month run on Broadway in 1944-45.
Trio by Dorothy Baker. Houghton Mifflin Co. (1943), 234 pp.
The story opens on the preparations for a faculty tea in the posh apartment of Pauline Maury, a brilliant professor of French at Berkeley. She’s just published an important book and is expecting a promotion. She shares the apartment with Janet Logan, her insecure and exhausted graduate assistant. It’s obvious that their relationship goes beyond academics, but how far beyond is not yet clear. Helping in the kitchen is sometime student, sometime drifter Ray MacKenzie. He’s a bright guy but not attracted to formal study. When he develops an interest in Janet, the lives of the three are propelled into conflict.
Dorothy Baker provides an acerbic view of academic life and perhaps also of romantic attachments between women. But even while she makes her characters muddled, she keeps her prose clean and crisp. The third-person narrator seldom gets into the minds of the characters, preferring instead to describe behavior and transcribe conversation. Readers thus may find themselves disappointingly detached from the conflict. The ending is likely to seem melodramatic, especially by modern standards, but it hardly comes as a surprise. Baker’s handling of the Lesbian theme was disquieting to some in 1943 and may still be of interest today.