Life in the big Apple
She’s young, glamorous and in huge demand for the sparkling essays she writes about her neurotic New York lifestyle.
Sloane Crosley is young, glamorous and in huge demand for the sparkling essays she writes about her neurotic New York lifestyle.
SLOANE Crosley, publicist by day, memoirist by night, has been said to “speak for her generation”, so it’s lucky the 31-year-old has so much to say.
Her first book of essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, sold 150,000 copies when it was released in 2008 and is currently being considered by HBO as the basis for a TV series.
Her follow-up collection, How Did You Get This Number?, released in June, recounts further adventures of her life in New York and she is working on a novel, her second – the first she put away in a drawer: “I should rename it Dear Grandchildren If You Publish This I’ll Come Back From the Grave and Tear Your Eyes Out. A long title, but I think it works.”
We are in Balthazar, a smart New York brasserie which, along with taxi cabs, disgusting flatmates, small apartments, reminiscences about childhood pets, mild behavioural tics and Crosley’s strongest piece in the new book, an account of her disastrous affair with a cheating scumbag, feels like a staple of the wry personal anecdote, all told with the zippy air of the 1990s newspaper column.
Author Sloane Crosley’s charm in her writing is her a spry tone.
If her whimsy runs out of control here and there – the first essay in I Was Told There’d Be Cake is about Crosley’s adorable toy pony collection – she is, for the most part, sharp enough to get away with it, enlivening the funny-thing-happened-on-theway-to-the-fridge type jokes with the occasional standout image.
In the new book she goes on holiday to Portugal, where she sees “ancient Portuguese ladies, their spines bobbing beneath their cardigans as they scaled the city’s steep inclines”.
What you wonder most, after reading Sloane Crosley, is how many friends she lost when the first book came out. It contained snippy pieces about her ex-boss, her ex-flatmate and someone who must, at this stage, be an exfriend, whose wedding she was invited to and then devoted many pages to mocking. She smiles. “I got disinvited.”
Generally, however, people aren’t bothered, or don’t recognise themselves, or actively want to be written about, she says. She tends to clear things with her subjects first, for example the friend in her second book whose parents she exposed for trying to sting her on rent.
“He’s fine. Because it’s true, it’s what happened.”
She describes them scathingly as being of “more than moderate intelligence”, which, she now says, “I guess isn’t the nicest thing to say in the world, but it’s hardly Running With Scissors (Augusten Burroughs’s lawsuitgenerating memoir).”
Her own parents – mother a special-needs teacher, father in advertising – are affectionately painted. If one disagrees with her recollection of an event, the other inevitably endorses it. There’s only one incident in the new book that seems contrived, in which she hides her grandmother’s earrings in a jar of peanut butter, to keep them from her kleptomaniac flatmate.
“I did! I put them in a plastic bag first, I’m not crazy.”
It was after writing a few pieces in the Village Voice that a publisher contacted Crosley to suggest she write a joke book about etiquette. She didn’t think there was enough mileage in it – “even on a spoof level. But the personal essay thing was something I really enjoyed and it blew up from there.”
She had taken a creative writing course in college and had tried to write a novel at 22, which hadn’t come easily. “You can’t throw your consciousness into somebody else’s,” she says, “so instead you write a personal essay. For me it’s always just trying to get closer to whatever is worthwhile in my brain. If people still want to hear it.”
Publishing hunger for the humorous essay was revived 10 years or so ago by David Sedaris, since when, in the right hands, no observation has proven too light, no event too trivial to carry the day.
Crosley’s charm is her spry tone, the perfect match of form to content: when Jonathan Franzen put out a book of essays, the New York Times judged it “petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly selfabsorbed”.
Crosley doesn’t fall into this trap. She writes quickly, she says, and thinks of herself as quirky and old-fashioned, unlike the more aggressive comic essayists such as Chelsea Handler, or the soppy ones such as Elizabeth Gilbert.
“It’s the form that comes naturally to me. The secret benefit is that there aren’t that many essayists out there; with the exception of Sedaris and, in Britain, Geoff Dyer – he’s a golden god, I love that man. So I feel like if anyone makes a comparison, it’s going to be good, because there are only 20 of us. There are very few terrible essayists that are well known.”
The most gratifying thing is when college students write to her. “Women who are 20-24, who are like, they didn’t think they could write, or that anyone would be interested in their stories. I mean, you don’t want to inspire legions of people trying to publish their diary entries, and it gets a little hairy when you get painted as some kind of representative of your generation.”
The extraordinary thing at this point is that Crosley hasn’t given up her day job as a publicist at Random House. She writes mornings, nights, weekends and in her holidays.
“I agree with the adage that if you want something done give it to the busiest person in the office.”
The tipping point may come if the TV series takes off; she is writing the pilot, which will either “get approved or die on the vine” and she is helping to audition co-writers.
But, she says drily, her contract with HBO is such that they can easily get rid of her. “If I’m a lunatic they can say, well, you can consult on episode eight, for five minutes.”
The most powerful writing in the new book is the account she gives of a man she went out with, who, it transpired, was living with someone else. It is funny and painful and the denouement is classic, in which Crosley lies on the floor thinking, “You Don’t Have to Leave, But You Can’t Pee Here.”
The worst thing about it, she says, was when people asked her, pointedly, how long she was dating him (a year), as if to say: “How stupid are you exactly?”
She is over it now. “It happened five or six years ago. I remembered the facts of the case, but in order to express emotion about it I replaced him with someone else in my brain, who was a little more recent.”
The moral of the story is that “it wasn’t as real” as she thought it was. It’s to Crosley’s credit that it is, at least, so real in the re-telling. — Guardian News & Media 2010