Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

This is a pretty charming, mostly funny book of essays by a young woman who is a book publicist in Manhattan. Lots of what I enjoyed about it had to do with my occasional nostalgia for the publishing industry and for the bucketloads of fellow just-graduated English majors who I worked with back in the mid-nineties. But more objectively, a lot of Crosley's essays (which on the surface are about things like how men she dates always give her plastic ponies (there is an explanation), or how she locked herself out twice in one day at two different apartments) are quite interesting structurally. Her humor comes from the situations described and her voice, but the essays get their weight (which is not substantial but certainly on par or even deeper than humor-essayist-heavyweight David Sedaris) from the thread of ideas that she follows. Her essays are never about just one thing. I tend to think of the essay as being akin to the short story in that it typically ought to have a tight focus, but she makes a good case for thinking bigger. For example, an essay will start out on one subject, her parents' unholy fear of fire, but then moves (via candles) to the lax Judaism of her parents (Xmas tree decorators all the way) then on to her devotion to her Christian summer camp and then on to a spoiled girl she meets at summer camp and ending at her mother's reaction to her playing the role of Mary in the summer camp Christmas play after the spoiled girl, originally scheduled as Mary, breaks her toe when she slams into the dock while water-skiing. So one thing leads organically to the next, bringing in new ideas and experiences, and yet Crosley makes it all part of a larger, connected whole. All while making you laugh quite a bit.

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