No one believes me when I tell them that I never actually accepted the Newspaper job . . . By the time we came back from that second lunch, it was simply a foregone conclusion that I had been hired, and the story of how had gone through several editions of the newsroom grapevine.
The speaker – and wide-eyed narrator of I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This – is Sarah Makepeace, ex-college girl from Four Corners, Massachusetts, newly arrived in Greenwich Village and keen to earn a byline on the front page. At the novel’s hub is a nicotine-fuelled New York city news-desk in the 1970s, when stories were hammered out on typewriters or phoned in from call-boxes – the era of Gloria Steinem and aviator glasses, the Women’s Movement at its militant height and Gay Pride before Aids struck.
The 1970s aren’t a decade for which I normally feel nostalgic. But I too was starting out as a journalist then and was susceptible to the allure of newsprint. When Mary Breasted’s novel was published in 1983 I was bowled over by its seductive exuberance and the fizzing energy that hits newcomers to New York like steam rising off the sidewalks. Rereading it now, I find it still has form in the post-digital age as a period piece, infused with charm and ripe dialogue. The satire is more benign than savage, and social commentary is deftly filtered through the artless heroine’s nerve-racking education via the newsroom. Against the backdrop of Manhattan’s baking streets in the heat of summer are assembled a crack cast of back-stabbing reporters, politicians on the make, exotic street life and an undercover cop as moody as Marlon Brando.
Radcliffe graduate Sarah is the ever-naïve comic foil, trailing Sixties ideals (‘It was a badge of our age, speaking the truth about our feelings’) in her uneasy transition from flower child to city reporter: ‘It was costing me a lot to live like a Sixties person. The rents in the Village
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