Better Than Sane: Tales From a Dangling Girl

The latest addition to the 5-foot shelf of New Yorker memoirs

By Alison Rose

Knopf (2004), $23

The latest addition to the 5-foot shelf of New Yorker memoirs is notable for two reasons: It's startlingly lacking in any idolatry of Mr. Shawn and Mr. Ross and in Tina-bashing; and it reveals that sex actually does rear its lovely head among the tiny mummies. (Well, there was tiny-mummy sex in Lillian Ross' Here But Not Here: My Life With William Shawn andThe New Yorker.) Palo Alto-born-and-bred Alison Rose, briefly a model (witness the glam Bruce Weber photo that decorates the cover) and aspiring actress, spied a posting for a receptionist on a bulletin board at the magazine while visiting family friend Brendan Gill. She snagged the glamorous job (answering phones in a 6-foot-by-4-foot cubicle near the elevators on the writers' floor) and never looked back -- until now -- on her previous four decades, some of which she spent in Los Angeles, some of which is obscure (and further obscured by her patchy chronology). Rose calls her time at The New Yorker "school," or, in her rather fey, seductive, deliberatively flat, girlish, and compulsively readable voice, "School." There she engaged in heated flirtations with Harold Brodkey and George W.S. Trow, who eventually included Rose in the research and writing of the "casuals" published under the Talk of the Town rubric. She scribbled down every giddy exchange (one imagines in a binder emblazoned with "I § Harold Brodkey" and "Mrs. G.W.S. Trow"). When other flirtations lead back to her "room," as she calls it, on East 68th, the veil is drawn and we get nicknames: Mr. Normalcy, Personality Plus, and Europe (to spare the feelings of the wives). We await their eventual memoirs with interest.

 
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