Monday, December 10, 2012

How did you get this number

How did you get this number by Sloane Crosley (Riverhead Books, 2010) 271 pages

I was mean to Sloane Crosley when I reviewed her previous book (like, mean-to-a-kitten mean) in a manner that I generally don't like to do in reviewing the work of another writer. Please see here for that review. She seems a thoroughly likable person; however, privileged people living in NYC who get publishing contracts at youthful ages are definitely in my cross hairs. Especially if you write about fluffy topics. So I was somewhat pleasantly surprised when I picked up this book at one of the University of Toronto's used book sales this fall and read the first essay.

It is a comic/melancholic essay entitled "Show me on the Doll" about a (possibly) ill advised trip to Lisbon on the cusp of turning thirty, which Crosley claims was so not a big deal. But, apparently, tooling around in a foreign city where you speak not a whit of the language in the dead of winter is ... not fun. But what I like about it is what it does not say rather more than what it does say. Being alone on a journey is not fun; reaching a landmark birthday is dispiriting at times. No matter how glamorous the locale and the idea of this trip, there is a sort of sadness attached to it when you don't have someone to share these memories with. She adapted to the lack of language skills, the awful semi-pornographic TV, weird men following her around, her sense of displacement, the loneliness, and was saved by ... a trio of clowns in a cafe.

Crosley is eminently more engaging when she writes about her travels. I enjoy the fish out of water, self-effacing feel of these pieces about trips to Lisbon ("Show Me on the Doll"), Alaska ("Light Pollution") and Paris ("Le Paris!").

In Alaska, as the member of a bridal party, she witnesses the accidental death of a small cub struck on the highway by a vehicle that she's riding in - it's thoroughly upsetting and eye-opening. In Paris, she attempts to (somewhat traumatically) engage in confessing to a priest in the Cathedral of Notre Dame to a priest who speaks very little English (did I mention that Crosley is Jewish?). It's a bizarre and surprisingly touching essay. 

As is "Take a Stab at It" about finding suitable living accommodations in NYC and almost finding accommodation in a former bordello. Her growing attachment to the idea of being in close proximity to the ghosts of the prostitutes of the bordello is touching (and strange).

For me, this is much more engaging than recounting past injustices suffered at the hands of a mean girl in essays such as "If You Sprinkle" about a most unfortunate slumber party during middle school and encountering said mean girl many years later or "An Abbreviated Catalogue of Tongues", an essay on one's childhood pets categorized by animal. This cutesy approach to essay writing makes me groan. Invariably these pieces are solipsistic and boring.

By the final essay, "Off the Back of a Truck", she has lured me back ... the story alternates between her somewhat covert relationship with "Daryl", a warehouse worker who is likely selling her stolen luxury goods at highly reduced prices, and her relationship with "Ben" - a too good to be true prospective lover who may, or may not, have recently ended an eight year common law relationship to date Crosley. It makes for a clever analogy: Crosley is stealing from this upscale retailer and, unknowingly, possibly another woman's partner. Or, perhaps ... Ben is "stealing" Crosley's love away in the same way she is "stealing" through Daryl. It is the most mournful essay in the collection, unusually so, deliciously so.

I detect an underlay of sadness here that was not so evident in the first collection. I think I like Crosley with a broken heart, whose dreams are a bit shattered. The glib smart mouth is subdued and a more soulful quality has emerged. The kitten is growing up. And likely I should stop being mean to it. Very likely.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I liked this book, too-- and you described why I liked it very well...