Better than sane: tales from a dangling girl
Dorothy Parker meets Holly Golightly in this sharp, delicious, bright-girl-comes-to-New-York memoir. Alison Rose, former actress and former model (sort of), takes us from her childhood to her years at The New Yorker, revealing how, often, she “didn’t care enough about existence to keep it going herself” and preferred to stay in her room with her animals and think.
She writes about her childhood in California, daughter of a movie-star-handsome psychiatrist who was charming to friends but a bully and a tyrant to his family (he hadn’t wanted children; he believed mental illness was hereditary). She writes about how she never liked any place better than her wisteria-covered veranda off her childhood bedroom . . . and about the times she lay by the pool with her sister’s boyfriend (she ten; he eighteen), listening to “Ten Cents a Dance” on the phonograph—and learned the victory of cahoots-style flirtation . . .
She writes about moving to Manhattan in her twenties, sleeping in Central Park, subsisting on Valium, Eskatrol, and Sara Lee orange cake . . . about the “alter” family she assembled: Francine from Atlanta, whose beauty was so unnerving she disoriented those around her; “Mother,” the short gay man who photographed Alison; “Baby Bob,” just out of Austen Riggs mental hospital . . .
She writes about moving to L.A., attending the Actors Studio, living with Burt Lancaster’s son “Billy the Fish” (he lived in his own element, coming up for other people’s air), sabotaging her acting efforts (no one knew better than Alison how to shut the window on her own fingers) . . . about encountering Helmut Dantine of Casablanca fame, who gave her shelter from the storm, and about meeting Gardner McKay, her childhood TV idol, and becoming friends—sacred, close, lifelong.
She writes about returning to New York, getting a job as a receptionist at The New Yorker, being taken up by the writers there—“a tribe of gods,” who turned her from a semi-recluse into a full-fledged writer (“You can't be the smartest person who doesn’t do anything forever”); about their kindredness, the impromptu club they formed: Insane Anonymous (a “whole other world that was better than sane”); and her emergence as a writer for the magazine. As Renata Adler said of Alison’s path, “It is the most nuanced, courageous, utterly crazy way to have wended.”
Better Than Sane is the debut of a supremely gifted and entertaining writer.
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