Slouching towards Sloane

New York-based writer Sloane Crosley takes on bears and the world with her vicious wit.

Nikki Dance/Staff

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The whole thing is made up," Sloane Crosley told me over the phone about her book, she in New York and I in Berkeley. "I'm a Japanese midget."

This could be true. The small jacket photo in the back of her second book of essays "How Did You Get This Number", published last summer and now in paperback, certainly doesn't look like a Japanese midget. But Crosley, tall with long hair and discerning eyes, is the type of person (and New Yorker) you might not want to trust. "I like to trick people into thinking they are in a safe happy place," Crosley said of her work, inspiring me to ask myself: Is this line safe? Are you wearing a wire? How DID you get this number?

Despite the 3,000 miles and millions of cell phone radiation waves between us, I took an instant liking to Crosley, an I-can-feel-her-hot-young-New-York-writer-breath-on-my-neck sort of liking. As we passed the banter banana back and forth, I felt her baubles of wit percolating through the tiny holes on the receiving end of my phone and into my receiving ear.

I felt in her a kindred spirit. She said she loves Joan Didion - check. She said she cries and eats cereal all day - check. She was once called a racist - check. As a 32-year-old writer living in New York, Crosley is living the dream of a lot of people - people who will undoubtedly never have that dream and instead will live the nightmare of parents' basements and remaking a venti latte for a WASP-y asshole who said he wanted soy, damn it, soy.

Does Crosley, author of two books of essays and a columnist for The Independent, think she's living the dream that Carrie Bradshaw has incepted into my brain? "When it's your life," she said, "you see it as a little more three-dimensional than living a specific kind of dream." Okay, whatever, Crosley, you lucky little thing, you.

Crosley's got a string of pearls on her hands. Her first essay collection, "I Was Told There'd Be Cake" (doubtless words we've all said upon going to a place we didn't like), was met with acclaim and an eager anticipation for her next work. For jaded New-York-living-essay-loving literary enthusiasts, this was like tenacious tweens camping outside Barnes & Noble for the next Harry Potter installment: Do we really have to wait?

And now, "How Did You Get This Number" has racked up equal praise for Crosley's wry and absurd take on the seemingly mundane. "There's so much pressure on essay collections to have a distinct theme," Crosley said of her transition between books. "I was gunning for having opted out of that requirement, like taking an AP exam in high school."

The topic for this paperback course in Crosley is travel, ranging from personal narratives about apartment hunting and hooker ghosts to New York esoterica ("If you can still see the location from where you hailed the cab," she writes in one story, "you don't have to pay when you get out." Shows what I know. I'll never make it in that town).

Though she's a vegetarian, Crosley says these essays are "meatier" and "less dancing monkeys." When you're a writer ready to put those dancing rhetorical monkeys back in their pen, it's a sure sign of maturity.

Crosley subscribes to the dictum that the specific is always funnier than the general. Take the first line of her book: "There is only one answer to the question: Would you like to see a three a.m. performance of amateur Portuguese circus clowns?"

Despite being spatially challenged - according to one story, she has a condition where she often can't tell left from right or read the hands of an analog clock - Crosley treads the slippery terrain of memory with flair.

"Traveling is much easier in terms of memories because your whole brain is a sponge," said Crosley. "I don't want to make it sound totally effortless I have a good memory but it's not a Truman Capote kind of memory."

She likes to think of these essays, which find her in places like a back alley in Lisbon chilling with chickens or as a witness to a bear killing in Alaska, as her "unofficial" reports. It keeps her from thinking she's writing the story of her life, "which would make my skin crawl," she said. "I'm actually a pretty private person. What I'm trying to do is entertain people with something we all find funny (without) digging up every emotional core I've ever had."

The spongy Crosley is not as self-aware as you'd imagine, considering this is a collection of personal essays. "This sounds crazy but now I think of these essays as being about me. "At the time, I didn't think I was writing a book of personal essays" - and it shows. Crosley does especially well with stories that have a narrative, a beginning, a middle and an end. And boy, can she do an ending.

While most of the stories are comical and confessional, as Crosley inexplicably finds herself the victim of strange and (often literally) outlandish circumstances, she crafts profound moments out of her bubbling, bauble-y drollery. That wit, like the champagne I will someday roll out of bed to buy every morning with my freelance writer's paycheck, is acerbic and dizzying. And yet, it goes down deceptively easy while giving you things to think about the morning after.


Contact Ryan at [email protected]

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