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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By emmA BROcKeS

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”.

Telling tales

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.”

Fan mail

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

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