notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
Is Sloane Crosley “the female David Sedaris”? Some critics have hailed her so, but for every person who thinks I Was Told There’d Be Cake is as funny, well-rendered, and interesting as Naked or When You Are Engulfed in Flames, there are five others who made it halfway through Crosley’s first essay, rolled their eyes, and put the book aside forever.
Putting it bluntly, I do not think Crosley is anywhere close to Sedaris on a humoristic or stylistic level. But, does she need to be? I’m not sure why some reviewers feel they must continually compare humor writers–Bill Bryson against Dave Barry, for example. I didn’t go into reading her book with any expectations–which was a good thing, considering that the book didn’t quite live up to its hype.
This is Crosley’s first book of essays, and it’s pretty good for a first collection. (David Sedaris fans: think of how Barrel Fever pales in comparison to Me Talk Pretty One Day. You can see how much he’s evolved in just a decade of writing.) Out of her fifteen essays I loved two, liked at least half of them, and only really disliked a few. In fact, the first essay, “The Pony Problem,” was one of the worst. Why, I wonder, did she choose to begin the collection with her weird adult pony-hoarding problem?
Crosley’s essays vary drastically in topic, but the style and voice is pretty much the same throughout: sardonic, tounge-in-cheek, naive and preppy and clever. All of her essays are of the “first world problems” variety, but they’re still entertaining. My favorite essays are “The Ursula Cookie,” about her first job out of college as a literary agent assistant with a terribly mean boss, and “You on a Stick” about attending a former friend’s gigantic bridezilla wedding. I can relate; I think most of us can. “Bring Your Machete to Work Day” is pretty hilarious, especially if you were as addicted to The Oregon Trail computer game as she (and, er, I) were fifteen years ago. “Lay Like Broccoli,” where she explains her reasons for, and difficulties with, veganism and vegetarianism, is funny at times but at others feel forced. Different essays in the collection seemed dragged-out, a little too over-the-top as to make them less interesting, or honest. For instance, in “Smell This,” Crosley finds a special gift left behind by one of her guests on her bathroom rug. I laughed, I grimaced, I gagged a few times. But there was room for more reflection there, and at times it seems she gets so caught up in the narrative that Crosley forgets to step back from the action and humor for a bit.
Her book is a New York Times Bestseller–and I can see why. If (when?) Crosley writes another book of essays, I’ll definitely pick it up. (She’s coming out with her first novel soon.) My interest in Crosley isn’t because I was so blown away by her first collection, but because bits and pieces of her voice were so compelling that I’d venture to say she’s only going to get better with age. She’s a writer we want to like, and want to get to know. But what I’m really wating for is the answer to the riddle of who pooped on her bathroom carpet.