Part comedy of manners, part treasure hunt, the first novel from the writer whom David Sedaris calls "perfectly, relentlessly funny"
Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor are reunited for the extravagant wedding of a college friend. Now at the tail end of their twenties, they arrive completely absorbed in their own lives-Kezia the second-in-command to a madwoman jewelry designer in Manhattan; Nathaniel the former literary cool kid, selling his wares in Hollywood; and the Eeyore-esque Victor, just fired from a middling search engine. They soon slip back into old roles: Victor loves Kezia. Kezia loves Nathaniel. Nathaniel loves Nathaniel.
In the midst of all this semi-merriment, Victor passes out in the mother of the groom's bedroom. He wakes to her jovially slapping him across the face. Instead of a scolding, she offers Victor a story she's never even told her son, about a valuable necklace that disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France.
And so a madcap adventure is set into motion, one that leads Victor, Kezia, and Nathaniel from Miami to New York and L.A. to Paris and across France, until they converge at the estate of Guy de Maupassant, author of the classic short story "The Necklace."
Heartfelt, suspenseful, and told with Sloane Crosley's inimitable spark and wit, The Clasp is a story of friends struggling to fit together now that their lives haven't gone as planned, of how to separate the real from the fake. Such a task might be possible when it comes to precious stones, but is far more difficult to pull off with humans.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
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By Sloane Crosley
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Sloane Crosley
All rights reserved.
"Oh God," Nancy the Temp blubbered as soon as she heard the bad news, "I'm so sorry this is happening, Victor. What is wrong with people?"
She hugged him tightly. Victor remained still. Nancy was as round as Victor was tall. It was like a koala climbing a bamboo tree. Her hair was short and gray like a koala's, too, and Victor had a full view of the swirl of her head. The two of them could tie for Most Out of Place at the offices of mostofit.com, though Nancy would win on a technicality: She would still be coming into the office after today and Victor would not.
"Seriously." She pressed her face against his chest. "What is wrong with our society? These young people!"
Nancy held the paper announcing Victor's departure in her hand, crushing it so that his last name, Wexler, melded with his first into VictorWe. Alas, he did not feel particularly victorweous today. He also did not feel like being ousted from the "young people" category by a woman in her late forties. Victor was in the odd position of working in an industry that made him feel older than he was, while living in a city that made him feel younger than he was. Used to work, rather.
Mostofit, the Internet's seventh-largest search engine, had made a cultural impact when it was founded. The senior investors had insisted on a bloated marketing budget that, for reasons Victor didn't understand, could not be reallocated toward the operations of the site itself. In addition, the funds had a use-it-or-lose-it condition, which meant the company was in a hurry to spend money on the wrong things. There were major ad buys, Taxi TV, sponsored content, billboards, bumper stickers, bellybands, sidebars. Everyone knew the site ... no one used it.
Even Victor knew this wasn't his fault. Long before the consensus had been reached that he was the company's most expendable employee (he started out as a low-level data scientist and ended up as a mid-level data scientist), there were rumblings about disappointing "impressions" and "uniques" that sounded a lot like how Victor described first dates. Except they were pertaining to the .07 percent of all U.S. searches that the company could claim as their own. This meant that if all the mostofit users in America descended upon the office, it would be crowded — but no one would suffocate. The company's biggest coup was a sketch on Saturday Night Live in which the mostofit staff were portrayed as a bunch of grandmas, thumbing through encyclopedias each time a tech-savvy teenager (played by Justin Timberlake) searched for porn.
Victor had already begun stockpiling free candy and bottled water. What he could not have predicted was an internal press release, an actual piece of paper, announcing his departure as if it were good news.
Even for a bunch of socially autistic geniuses, this was a feat of offensiveness.
"I don't think this is a society thing or a people thing," Victor explained to Nancy. "I think it's a company thing."
She stopped nuzzling long enough to look up. "Well, what do you think a company is made up of?"
"This company?" Victor looked at the charts tacked to his wall, graphics and maps he never quite knew how to read. "I'm not sure."
Victor's sole gift had been cataloging mundane digital data, wrangling raw information and putting it into algorithm-friendly piles. He was really good at it. He was good at creating lists of every country with a history of malaria outbreaks, at tracking how often people searched for fetish porn, at restricting the range of a data set so that the mostofit search field appeared psychic. He was a finder of information that was never structured to be found. Even growing up in a pre-Internet world, he excelled at this kind of thing. His bibliographies were more extensive than his actual papers. Some people skipped to the end of a book; Victor skipped to the index. After college, he briefly enrolled in the masters program in library science at Pratt before deciding that his bank account would be better served by a move to the technology sphere. Alas, data collection was where his skill set ended and the rest of the Internet began.
"It's a conspiracy. This place is going to hell in a handbasket."
His desk phone rang. It sounded like a doctor's office phone — that erroneously chipper briiiing, that red light bright enough to imply urgency, small enough to be ignored. It rang about once a year, usually a wrong number. It was probably human resources, gunning for an exit interview. Something in the somberness of Nancy's gaze told him she would slash his tires if he moved. Victor didn't have a car. She would slash his MetroCard.
"Well, I'll miss you." She unlocked her vise grip.
He didn't like the implication of "at least" in there.
"See you in there," Nancy said, hitting her emotional wall and thumping away. "IN. A. HANDBASKET."
"There" was the mostofit conference room.
Because a press release wasn't quite bad enough, in the wake of his dismissal, there was an unprecedented conference room toast. This was one ceremonious firing. The conference room table was piled high with pity fruit and pity champagne and pity Perrier. Victor chomped on a dry brownie and washed it down with champagne. Then he put some melon in a napkin, went back to his desk, and forced himself to read the entire release.
It used the same font and generic template as good news, complete with the "for immediate release," a phrase that applied to both the information in general and to Victor in specific. It spoke about "isolated restructuring of the brand moving forward" and lamented the redundancy of "a steadfast data scientist who ultimately did not improve the disambiguity and relevance of results" and, finally, hoped everyone would "wish Victor Wexler the best as he applies his skills in future endeavors, be they in the start-up realm or another platform elsewhere."
Elsewhere? Where elsewhere? This was the only place he had ever worked. He had no other skills. He barely had these skills.
What happened was this: Victor had been skating along for a few years, nodding at meetings and avoiding his managers. And he would have kept skating if he hadn't drawn attention to himself as a total fucking imbecile. But he knew that if he was ever going to get ahead, he was going to have to do more than compile data. So he crafted a brand-new idea: A feature that would aggregate a maximum of ten results for any search. If none of the links met the right criteria, a user scrolled down, where he or she was met with options:
Try a Different Search (which linked back to the search field)
Go to a Library (which found the closest public library)
Stop Stalking Him/Her (which led to a sponsored dating site)
Victor pitched it as a search engine within a search engine, a small-batched algorithm with attitude. His pitch was good, full of acronyms of which he had only the loosest grasp but which he managed to imbue with authority for an uninterrupted five minutes.
"So it would replace what we have now?" said one of his managers, elbows leaning on the same conference table that would soon be covered in pity fruit.
"What?" Victor was caught off guard. "I didn't say that."
"Then what would be the point?"
Victor continued to talk, the wind knocked out of his sails but still bobbing along. Then everyone started asking him questions, probing about link metrics and sponsorship conflicts. Bright lines floated in Victor's vision, smaller versions of the fluorescent bulbs above. Someone said something about the idea not being "sticky."
"Victor? Did you hear what I said?" asked a loathsome kiss-ass named Chad Chapman, who knew grave concern for the weak would make him appear compassionate. "I asked how a platform such as the one you're proposing would mesh with the company's plans for an overhauled interface."
Victor had his finger in the dam of ignorance for so long, his muscles gave out and he forgot to remember not to ask things like:
Now Chad didn't even have to pretend to look concerned. The question revealed a year's worth of professional coma. Victor had not been reading the e-mails. He didn't know how to read most of the e-mails. There were internal databases he hadn't logged in to in so long, he'd forgotten the password. But there was no way to get the password. It would be like casually asking how to flush the toilet after six years.
"You mean the redesign?"
"Yes," one of the voices said.
"And what did I say?"
"You said relaunch."
Had someone cut the central air?
"Victor, how would your plans work within the site going forward?"
This voice was identifiable by rank. It belonged to Mark Epstein, the Clark Kent–ish chief operating officer and annoyingly good guy. Mark spent the equivalent of a first-year tech's salary remodeling the kitchen in his country house, but still — good. Which is why it stung to have him put the cap on his pen and say: "It's an idea."
Was there a worse compliment than the one with no adjective? You have a face. It's a sweater. He does a job.
Chad smirked. Victor nervous-burped and threw up in his mouth a little. Actually, more than a little. He could smell it. He could see everyone else smell it as he exhaled the fumes. Even Mark Epstein, frequent business school guest speaker and acceptor of minor humanitarian awards, looked grossed out.
"Excuse me," Victor whispered, carefully parting his lips.
Mark coughed. "Maybe we should have a breakout about this postconference."
"Great idea, Mark," said Chad.
Victor swallowed as quietly as he could.
And that was that.
He snuck out the afternoon of his toast and never went back. Technically, he was supposed to turn in his ID card. There was a twenty-dollar replacement fee for lost cards. He'd like to see them come after him for it. He went home and stuck the press release on his refrigerator, right next to the invitation to Caroline Markson's wedding, a month away. It took three magnets to make the invite stay up. The press release took one.
* * *
He knew that this was the start of a new life. As homely as the old one was, this was going to be straight-up ugly. The whole company was in trouble (when your aim as a corporation is to unseat the sixth-largest version of your corporation, you're legally working on the set of a Christopher Guest film). But being the first to be let go was humiliating. Without the alignment of lunch and commuting schedules, Victor quickly lost touch with the handful of coworkers he liked. He would do nothing all day but plan on doing other things. He trolled employment websites, took naps, and drank early. Some days he knew it was raining only because his mail was wet. He ate foods that could survive nuclear attacks. Hello, frozen burrito, old friend. How I've missed ignoring your suggestion that I cook you on high for three minutes, flip you over, and cook you on high for three minutes again.
When the occasional probing ex-coworker e-mail floated into his inbox, like a dandelion seed, he would answer it with an upbeat "All good in my world. Hope the office is treating you well!" and ignore whatever response he got. He had so little to discuss with these people when not trying to shove algorithms down their throats.
After the alienation of his coworkers came the alienation of his friends. He hadn't told anyone that he'd been fired. It was the one piece of control he had, the one weight-bearing pole in his life. He was easily dissuaded from plans. He would force himself to write a few "you out tonight?" texts and if he didn't hear back before 10 p.m., that was that. He was in for the night. And yet, as much as he hated leaving the house, he also refused to have people over. Here was Victor's suddenly sacred space where so many hours were spent alone, plowing through toilet paper because his prime toilet hours were on his own dime now.
After his friends came his family. He e-mailed them just often enough to present a heartbeat. His parents asked him insidious questions like "How's work, kiddo?" or "When are we seeing you next?" The sound of his mother dismissing her complaints about substitute teaching because her days "couldn't possibly be as stressful as yours, honey," killed him. The sound of his father saying he put a new mostofit.com bumper sticker on the car? That dug up his fresh grave and killed him again.
Finally came all of humanity. He was becoming an old man — oversensitive to street traffic, muttering snide comments to people who were not self-aware enough for his liking. Office workers were champion public walkers, but the middle of the day was for brand consultants, tourists, and nannies. Though ... the Hassidim he liked. Be it out of religion or common sense, they moved quickly, never touched anyone, and made sure that no one ever touched them. When Victor did leave the house, he would watch Hassidic couples in their wigs and their hats and their sensible footwear and he would be jealous. Not only were they conscientious walkers, he bet they were never bored with their lives. There was always something they could glean from the Old Testament, some kind of meaning. They could be repressed homosexuals or misogynist assholes or run-of-the-mill nose-pickers, but at least they had a reason to wake up in the morning.CHAPTER 2
Paranoid about traffic as usual, she found herself at the airport gate at 7 a.m. with an hour to kill. She took little adventures away from the waiting area: bathroom run, magazine purchase, futile inquiries about a business-class upgrade she couldn't afford. Victor was on a later flight but she wondered if she might run into Olivia Arellano or Sam Stein. She wasn't close enough with either of them anymore to know. When she texted Olivia, a stranger replied with a "wrong # sorry." Kezia wasn't much tighter with the bride. She and Caroline hovered in distant-friend brackets, conscious of their past (they were freshman-year roommates) but strangers in the present. And whose fault was that? Kezia's, probably. She had shed college like a snake.
Once in Miami, she followed her driver as he pushed an empty cart toward the parking garage, using a folded paper sign like an oven mitt. The sign was impressively misspelled. MOYTRIN instead of MORTON. He pushed the hooded crosswalk button. It was hard to believe these buttons were affiliated with actual change.
"Are you sure you don't want me to get that?" Her driver gestured at her bag.
The bag dug into her shoulder but she knew she would expend more energy removing it than holding on to it for another minute. She also clutched a garment bag with multiple dress options hooked to the plastic hanger inside.
"I'm fine, thank you."
Her company's car service was so abused by her boss, every Rachel Simone employee fudged this little luxury. The same obliviousness that caused Rachel to look quizzically at completed tasks, as if she herself had not assigned them, caused her to gloss over charges from cities she hadn't been to.
"What brings you to Miami?" The driver tossed her luggage into the trunk.
She hated being asked about her plans by strangers. The worst were hairstylists who yammered as they yanked at her curls, asking her about her "big plans" for the evening. Who had taught them to do this? Usually she was getting her hair done for a first date and the question embarrassed her. Sometimes she tried to teach them a lesson by replying with: "Funeral."
"What's your name, Key-zee-ah?"
"It's Kezia, with a soft 'e' like a fez, not a key."
"Yeah, but what is it?"
"Oh," she sighed. "It's from the Bible. After God takes everything away from Job, he gets his family back and one of the new daughters is called Kezia."
The driver nodded solemnly. She knew what he was thinking. But she didn't hail from religious stock. Her parents just liked the name. The closest she had come to hearing the Bible mentioned in their house was when another object was like a Bible. A phone book or a diner menu.
"You eat pork?" he asked, once they were ensconced in air-conditioning.
She may have been the least Jewish-looking person streaming out of the terminal. As a human demographic, she looked like she had just come from a Celtic sprite convention. But there was something about her appearance — wan, maybe, a curly blond Wednesday Addams — people were always offering her gluten-free vegetarian options when she didn't ask for them.
"I know a place that has the best Cuban sandwiches in Miami. The best. And reasonable prices, too. If you like good food, you can go."
No, I hate good food.
Her driver presented a ticket to a woman at the garage gate. They shared a joke and she waved them through.
"You wanna write this down?"
"I would," said Kezia, "but my phone's broken."
She pushed the pimple on her chin, the one with its own area code, causing a painful throbbing. She could see it in the reflection of the window. It changed her profile, that's how big it was.
"You like live music?"
Also something I hate.
"I'm here for a wedding."
"Oh, no." He shook his head. "You have to stay longer than that."
Excerpted from The Clasp by Sloane Crosley. Copyright © 2015 Sloane Crosley. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction to "The Necklace",
"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant,
A Note About the Author,
Also by Sloane Crosley,
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Sloane Crosley
The comic novel the translation of universally human folly into a story one can't help but hope turns out somehow for the best is a high-wire act for any writer, a feat of balance between judgment from our better angels and delight in our capacity to return to our mistakes. Sloane Crosley may have undertaken the best possible training for such a daunting endeavor. Before publishing her debut novel, The Clasp, which follows a group of collegiate friends through the trials of love and friendship, via a grand and improbable quest across the map and into a mystery of the WWII-era past Crosley had already made her name as one of her generation's most winning essayists, her collections I Was Told There Would Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number establishing her as one of the wryest eyes of the contemporary cultural scene, unafraid to turn her own wrong turns into triumphs of humor and insight on the page. For The Clasp, Crosley drew not just upon her already-sharp observation of her fellow young urbanites but on her literary obsessions and love of an engrossing story. The result casts a cool gaze over a cultural moment and then invites readers on an unpredictable journey that connects the great artists of the past to her own sparkling invention. Earlier this year, I spoke with Crosley about her new work, the art of names, and how she constructed a "treasure hunt" for careful readers. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. Bill Tipper
The Barnes & Noble Review: In The Clasp you begin by situating us in a very twenty-first- century comedy of manners. We have a love triangle. We have a set of college friends. It seems to me there is an emerging sensibility in our literature that is definitely part of your novel, which tracks the way that love relationships are so rooted, so often, in our friendships that we develop because we are no longer in a world where men and women only know each other through family bonds, or professional bonds.
Sloane Crosley: There's no "Dear God, I saw your wrists; we're getting married." Yes.
BNR: Instead, we have these very ill-defined relationships as young adults, which then often become the basis for long-standing friendships out of which, in many cases, coupling takes place. So the whole world of manners, the world in which our kind of formal signals to one another about where we stand with one another takes place in this entirely new context, which is essentially the kind of never-ending hangout of college life.
SC: Depending on how you think of that dynamic, it's actually a detriment outside of it. What I wanted to convey with these characters, what felt real to me was not just sort of the dysfunction that they have with each other. These friendships are the training camp from where you learn to love and where you learn to have a relationship.
It can be incredibly irritating. Nathaniel is essentially stuck with these sort of superficial parameters around relationships and what that's supposed to be, and he learned that from college. Kezia learned to expect almost nothing from college. Kezia is actually an incredibly common name everywhere in South Africa and Australia and in the U.K. I swiped it there are tiny little treasure- hunty things in the book for people who love short stories in general. One of them, a big one for me, is that her name is from "The Doll's House," which is a Katherine Mansfield short story that's one of my favorites of all time.
BNR: That leads me to ask about your choice for names in general. Names are meaningful in this book. Victor, for example, doesn't begin as a victor. Let's put it that way.
SC: No, he does not.
BNR: Did those names land on people after you developed the characters? Or did you begin from things like names and these external signifiers?
SC: I would say they happened simultaneously for the most part. The minor characters are just fun. You want someone who is an approximation . . . I had a lot of fun looking up, for example, Olivia Arellano. "OK, I've decided to make her Venezuelan. What's a great Venezuelan name?" It's easy, it's fun, it's candy, going down this Google Search of what would be a great name, for some of the minor ones.
For the major ones, Nathaniel Nathaniel was tricky. Because Nathaniel represents, I think, for a lot of women, myself included, an old archetype of what you thought you wanted. I thought it would muddy my mental waters if it was any name of a guy like that. But I know so many guys like that. So actually, for him it was a process of elimination. Then, plus, I love the idea that he is this sort of wannabe literary person. He is a literary person. But I like the idea that he wanted to extend his name, his full name, because he thought that people associated him with Hawthorne at a certain point.
BNR: I thought of Nathanael West.
SC: Oh, Nathanael West. We will also accept that as an answer. So for him, it was a little bit more abstract. With Victor, it was pretty much point-blank, this is a name this guy should not have. So I want to give it to him, because he is this sort of Job-like figure. Her, like I said, I swiped it you don't also need to read all of Katherine Mansfield. But if you were to read that story, and now, hopefully after having read the novel . . . it's her in a lot of ways in that short story, where she's trying to do the right thing but also trying to fit in, a little bit of a goody-goody, a little bit of a brat.
BNR: Let's talk about "The Necklace." First I should say that one of the things that's surprising about this book is that it goes in a direction that one, I don't think, is going to expect from the first few scenes.
SC: Probably not.
BNR: One imagines that it is going to be centered on this sort of comedy, this potentially very bittersweet comedy of relationships between these people. And then, suddenly, there is quest, and there is something very different that happens. How did you arrive at that story? And how did Guy de Maupassant's classic short story play in that?
SC: I did something on purpose that I hope people realize is on purpose that there is that twist, there is that turn that you don't necessarily see coming, and it will be interesting to see whether or not it's too sharp a turn maybe. I don't know. But I wanted to get them out of the comfort zone. I wanted to get them looking for something. I think one of the larger things in this book is: We want the things that we told ourselves we've wanted for so long, and then you get them and you don't even know if you want it any more. Or there are weird consequences, or unexpected ones. "The Necklace" embodied that for me so much. I knew I wanted a short story before I hit on "The Necklace." Short stories were my first love. I haven't actually used the medium myself . . .
BNR: You've gone from essays to a novel, but the novel is really steeped in the idea of the short story.
SC: I feel like short stories are a very specific art form, very separate from novels. Some of the books that I love the most from the past, let's say, decade or so, at least, are about art. I love Bel Canto. I love The Goldfinch. I'd say The Dancer Upstairs is about art. These are books that immerse readers in a world that's a tribute to something else.
The tricky thing with a short story is this: music you can sort of describe, and a painting you can describe, but the short story is the description. So how do you get a short story into a novel about a short story without just copying the entire thing and flopping it in there. So it had to be something simple that each of the characters could either imitate, or see themselves in, or follow the trajectory of. That's really what happens with "The Necklace." They become something a little bit deeper, hopefully, than how they are presented at first, or they become a little more complex than others see them. And I feel that way about the short story very strongly. We treat that story like a punchline. You know? It's a simple story. I can't remember, but I must have read it when I was twelve. Yet it's terribly complicated.
BNR: What's also interesting is its longevity, its resonance. This is a story about the inability to tell the real thing. In a sense, that is a theme that continues to play out in ways, small and large, throughout your book.
SC: There is the very obvious, concrete way, which is the necklace that they're looking for: Is it real? Is it fake? Was it ever real? And then, yes, their relationships. That's why it's called The Clasp. What do we hold on to? Obviously, it has the tie of the necklace. But there are so many times where they're not even sure if they should be friends any more, and yet, at the same time, there's also a lot of emotion involved with their time together. It's all timing, right?
The other thing is, the story did also have to specifically involve Maupassant, who I find fascinating in himself.
BNR: I hadn't read much of Maupassant's biography, but before I spoke to you I read a little bit more about him. He has a wonderful career, and he's sort of brought by Flaubert
SC: who was his mother's childhood best friend.
BNR: Right. Into the company of real pantheon of nineteenth-century French writers. He becomes successful, and masters his art. And he dies very much in a paroxysm of despair and mental illness.
SC: My sympathy for him has a limit, only because he was a huge womanizer and general misogynist, and he died from syphilis. That's also where a lot of the depression came from. So he's not your standard writer, "Why am I here?" existential angst that caused this. But his descriptions, his letters to his doctor of the ghastly wraiths he used to see when he looked at himself, the way he felt his senses were turning on him, that despair . . . I thought it was beautiful. He's a fascinating figure in that way.
But I also just liked the idea of Victor feeling this sort of kinship with this guy who is so much better at everything than he is. He was. Maupassant was good at everything. Flaubert at some point I think told him to cool it with the rowing up and down the Seine all day because he wasn't getting enough writing done. "You're winning too many championships." He's good at rowing, he's charming, he was apparently amazing at lawn sports . . .
So it's just wanting to dip into this other time. I think Victor feels comfortable idolizing someone who is not in the present tense. He's so used to being rejected, into falling, to missing the mark and falling below expectations . . . There's no use comparing yourself to someone modern you'd like to be. It's much more comfortable to compare yourself to someone in the past.
BNR: Before The Clasp, of course, you had become well known as an essayist. As you were writing essays, were you working on a novel simultaneously? Were you thinking, I want to do a novel; how do I get my sensibility into a novel? Where did you start with this?
SC: In a way, this predates the essays. In every way, actually, but chronologically. I studied creative writing and wrote short fiction in college. Then I delightfully fell backwards into nonfiction, and will continue to stay in the muck and the mire of that lovely pit that I love so much I have another book of essays coming out after this. But that sort of ended up being what I was doing, and I felt very much for a novel and fiction I needed more time, and I just didn't have it, because I have this day job that I love so much that I was doing, and the nonfiction at the same time, and both were keeping me very busy and satisfying everything creatively.
Then it just kept being the case that I still wanted to do this. I mean, it's the same human being who's writing these things. You see actors switch from comedy to drama very frequently Kristin Wiig or Jon Hamm or Eric Bana, who apparently is a laugh riot in Australia. But with authors . . . the only one I can think of who really does it is Ian Frazier. His Travels in Siberia and also comedic essays about falling in the shower. I'm not really that person, I don't think. I think that the two are much more intertwined for me. But because you know what you're there for if you're writing essays, or at least the kind of essays I write there's a little bit of pathos in them. There's humor. There's heart. But your wings are slightly clipped, which is the challenge of the form. Whereas for a novel, you can kind of really yourself go. It's something I've always really wanted to do.
Also, frankly, it's really freeing to start being able to make everything up. It's nice! But then, of course, you can give yourself enough rope to hang yourself, if you say, "Well, everything in this world is my responsibility."
BNR: For someone who is a fantasy novelist, let's say, the idea of world creation is very front and center. It's part of the language of the art.
SC: It's why you got into it.
BNR: The character sort of comes later. But we don't tend to think about that task of building a world as a novelist. Was there a moment of vertigo when you kind of discovered that, you were kind of in the midst of writing this, and you thought, Oh, no, I've created a world, and now I'll have to keep it running . . .
SC: Right, now I have to be responsible. What happens is, it becomes difficult to make alterations at a certain point. Or it's like, if you can imagine, a Jenga set. Fine, you didn't care, and even if you did make an alternation, "OK, whatever, I'll just fix it," and now it's a Jenga set that's the size of your apartment building. You have to be careful.
BNR: There are consequences to moving certain parts of it.
SC: Exactly. There are consequences. Mostly for me, that happened with timeline stuff, not scenery stuff. It's easy enough tofix the hair up in one scene, hair down in the next. That's not that hard. Those kinds of consistency things. But I think those were the biggest sort of logistical edits I would get the timeline. How long have they been in France? You get a couple of "because I said so" cards that you can play, as an author. You can do that about twice, when the copy editor says, "This doesn't make sense" and I say, "I don't care." I think, honestly, twice is probably pretty generous. After that, they're pointing things out to make sure everything is intact.
BNR: Do you think that the stakes for that kind of precision and believable quality are higher when you're aiming for comedy? I'm thinking of the fact that if time or causality in a very moody, kind of tragic play are muddied, we might forgive them because of the intensity of the actors, perhaps the emotions that they are able to convey on stage. But in a comic piece, timing is everything.
SC: You used the analogy of a stage play. I mean, there's nothing like seeing the stagehands move back and forth, or seeing a piece of scenery fall down, or Townperson #6 is picking their nose, and suddenly you're looking at that and not at the central drama of the stage.
BNR: I would like to see the play in which Townperson #6 can't stop himself from sort of violating certain rules of hygiene. I think that would be an interesting play.
SC: I always to have one of those roles and put it on my resume, like "sixteenth person to shout on Spartacus," which was my big acting debut. Yeah, but you just don't want that to be an irritant. I notice it, too. It's not even . . .
BNR: Did you notice it when you were reading your own work?
SC: Oh, of course it becomes like a treasure hunt. Once you get the thing solid and it makes sense, and you feel like "I've said . . . " That's the biggest accomplishment I could possibly have, writing a novel and to have said what I wanted to say when I started, and I learned new things I didn't even know I wanted to say by the time I finished. That's exactly what happened for me, and it's great. Then occasionally, it was borderline fun. At a certain point it becomes fun. It's very hard to edit, it's hard to write, all these things are difficult. Plus was it Hemingway who said it? "Writing is easy; you just open your wrist and bleed . . . "
But I have to say, it becomes fun when you're on the hunt. It's like a game of memory, like a children's card game. I remember finding this and being giddy at some point: at certain point, in the beginning, one character puts a vodka tonic that he's ordered for a woman and puts it down, and I wrote "Victor sneers at the non- brown alcohol." Then, 250 pages later, I have him order a vodka tonic at a bar in France. I was so excited to find out he would do it! I mean, no one is going to notice this. But it's so glaring to me.
BNR: As you're pointing out, one of the things you have to pay attention to is that constant legerdemain of its realness. But if you're someone who likes stage plays then the fact that you know how artfully it's crafted, curiously doesn't take away for a moment that magical sense of the legerdemain.
SC: Oh, here's a jewelry analogy, since the book is partially about jewelry. If you have a pearl in a setting, usually if it's a really good pearl you can move it slightly, because if the setting is too tight on it, the way you would have on a sapphire diamond or a hard stone, it will crush it or it will hurt it. I mean, it's not spinning around in there, but it's slightly . . .
BNR: But if you can get a grip on it, you can actually move it?
SC: Right, you can actually twist it a little bit. That's honestly the best way (and it's something I've thought of before now) of what it's like to keep the structure in mind and keep everything in mind, but don't suffocate it.
BNR: That's a lovely metaphor.
SC: The other thing I think of, when, if I didn't want to write, I would always think, Go play with your toy; you're lucky; go do it.
Annie Dillard in The Writing Life says a thing about good writing. She said, "It's like splitting wood, and if you aim for it . . . " Apparently. I would not know this; I'm not an outdoorswoman. But apparently, if you aim for the wood, you will most likely miss. If you aim for the chopping block, you'll get it. She says you have to aim just past the wood; aim at the chopping block. That's how it feels. Just keep this consciousness of where you want to go without it suffocating you. Sometimes it's hard to have that balance. In some ways, I think the book would probably be better served if I had outlined better. But it also wouldn't have, I don't think, the energy or the humor it does if I had outlined, if I had known exactly where I was going.
October 15, 2015
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've been reading Sloane for a few years. I loved her essay collections so I was really looking forward to her first novel and it didn't disappoint. The book is a fun read about a group of college friends who find themselves reunited at a wedding. The story develops from each of their perspectives, ultimately setting them out on a journey to find themselves anew.
Stunning and hilarious. I finished it in three days and loved every word and turn of phrase. So touching between the funny lines as well.
Liked that it incorporated a short story everybody read in high school, but all the characters were brats.