Emily Cooke

  • Letters from a Young Poet

    STEADILY ACCUMULATING over the fifty-six years since Sylvia Plath’s death, the abundance of books, scholarship, reportage, gossip, and errata about the poet (not to mention material to do with her husband, Ted Hughes, or the adjacent subfield that has grown up around Assia Wevill, the woman for whom Hughes left Plath) can seem excessive. The uninitiated may be excused for not comprehending the reason for it all. Everyone else may be forgiven for their fatigue.

    The diehards, of course, make no apology. The devotee, the obsessive, is perpetually and unapologetically hungry for anything that will

  • Pay to Play

    There was a moment soon after I moved to New York City from Oregon—though not that soon, maybe two years in, the point being how long my pristine naïveté resisted corruption—when I realized that every new literary person I met had gone to Harvard or Brown. I didn't know why more of them hadn't gone to Yale, Princeton, or Cornell (my new friends, with their firsthand understanding of the relative strengths of the Ivies, likely could have explained), but they hadn't. These people had been, as a rule, editors of the Harvard Advocate or tutors at the Brown Writing Center, and when they graduated,

  • To Give and Deceive

    Clancy Martin first proposed to Amie Barrodale, his third wife, outside a New York Barneys, ten days after they’d met and just after buying her a $525 Pamela Love bracelet that she’d requested for her birthday. Martin was less rich than Amie had fancied, but he was willing to spend. Later he proposed again, at a Mexican restaurant, with one eye on the bar (alcohol was a love with a longer history). On a Kansas City sidewalk he proposed a third time. Amie said yes on every occasion. They decamped to India to be married by her guru, and there—either for symmetry or out of anxiety—they were wed

  • Cruel Intentions

    HAS ELENA FERRANTE ANY RIVAL? Only one: Lila, a fictional character, whom Ferrante, in her Neapolitan Novels, immortalizes and annihilates. Lila is charismatic and wild. Lila acts and Elena, Ferrante’s fictional stand-in, responds. Lila excels and Elena struggles to keep up. Or that’s how Elena sees it—her childhood is filled with delight in Lila’s prowess and pain at her own comparative inferiority. Yet My Brilliant Friend, the first in the series, records Elena’s apparent triumph: She passes her exams and goes to middle and then high school, where she performs stunningly, while Lila hangs

  • The Age of Senescence

    In 1976 Lore Segal published a short, fabulist satire of literary New York, narrated by a wide-eyed poet, Lucinella, who charges from one party to the next, directing her considerable wit cruelly inward, at her own ambitions and doubts, and affectionately outward, at her striving intellectual friends. In its brevity, its free handling of time, and its lightheartedness, Lucinella almost resembles Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, while the clipped narrative rhythms and wry high-low style bring to mind Grace Paley. The talk is emphatic, exclamatory. The characters’ last names are silly (“Winterneet,” “

  • Baby Geisha

    Trinie Dalton excels at characters who live and think inexpertly. The main narrator of her 2005 debut collection of stories, Wide Eyed, has bad judgment, isn’t fazed by strange or implausible events, and believes (or wants to believe) in things a skeptic would call woo-woo: talismans, ghosts, mystical signs. Baby Geisha, Dalton’s new collection, features a more eclectic cast (the exclusively first-person narration of the early book has branched out here into the occasional third, some of the protagonists are male, and one story is told from the point of view of Bob the dog), but her trademark