I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE
By Sloane Crosley
Riverhead Books, 228 pages, $14
Okay, I confess. I Facebook-stalked Sloane Crosley, and she has some very cool friends, including Leon Neyfakh, who profiled her for The Observer (“The Most Popular Publicist in New York”—Nov. 27, 2007). So believe me, I was totally psyched not to like her book of personal essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. I’ve never had this problem of instantly wanting to hate Nora Ephron (my goddess), or David Sedaris, or even Cynthia Heimel or Fran Lebowitz, and I’m basically too in awe of Adam Gopnik’s organizational skills to begin to check him out on the Web. But this is different. Just for starters, I can’t decide whether to identify with the author or with her parents. I might even have been Sloane Crosley, if I’d had a better work ethic, straighter hair and a different life.
Or at least I might have been one of her friends. We could have hung out at book signings. Maybe she’d have been my publicist, and I’d have had excellent quotes on the back of my book, from some of the authors she represents. She’s got Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Ames, Meghan Daum, Colson Whitehead, Andy Borowitz and A. M. Homes on the back of hers. They call her “charming, elegant, wise and comedic,” “bright and funny and enchanting,” not to mention “hilarious” (twice), “affecting” and “wry, generous, knowing.” How great is that? She also has awesome eyebrows, as you can see from the author photo.
But I can’t hate her—because, let’s face it, this is a funny book, and also a wistful book and a touching book. I don’t get all of the references, which makes me feel out of it, which I guess I am, and I deplore some of the grammar and usage. For instance, you’re the “younger” of two sisters, not the “youngest.” This is kind of like Facebook, actually, where “their” is always used instead of “his or her.” (See “Fuck You, Columbus,” where one sentence starts “Anyone who has endeavored to transport themselves. …”)
Mostly what I deplore is the insidious and instinctive ageism that underlies I Was Told There’d Be Cake. It’s cruel, the same way life is.
And I remember feeling the same way, back when miniskirts were news, and—to borrow a line from Wendy Wasserstein (whom I loved too much to envy)—Dinah Shore roamed the earth. So I felt old, and over, not only reading about Sloane Crosley, but also reading her.
Except when I was laughing. Or relating. Hers is a good book to read while eating breakfast some time in the afternoon, in a diner, in Manhattan. It’s totally a New York book, except when it’s just outside New York, trying to get here.
THERE ARE 15 essays in I Was Told There’d Be Cake, and my favorites are a long one about being a bridesmaid, and anything that includes the author’s father. I just love Mr. Crosley, who’s got a mordant sense of humor and can stalk with the best of us. He once tracked Sloane down by calling everyone in her old address book. You can tell Sloane (I should call her Ms. Crosley, I suppose, but it’s hard, because when you’ve read about her, you have the illusion you’re friends) loves him, too. And her mother: In “Fever Faker,” Mrs. Crosley takes Sloane to lots of doctors, right before she leaves for college. “Her empty-nest insanity had gotten the best of her and she temporarily forgot that Connecticut wasn’t Calcutta.”
One of the great things about Sloane Crosley is how unapologetically girly she is. Hers is a generation that doesn’t feel obliged to apologize for shaving (uh-oh, here comes a grammar issue) its legs. Nora Ephron said it best: “The only lasting legacy of the women’s movement is the Dutch treat.” But it’s also true that these 20-somethings are feminism’s daughters. Or nieces. Smarter, more accomplished sooner, less conflicted. Taller. Maybe it’s something we ate, but my generation can be proud.
In some of these essays, Ms. Crosley makes a big deal of her own solipsism. But she’s a nice person, and not the only one who doesn’t want to share her good shampoo with a significant other. Also, she has a conscience, and she’s hyper self-aware. And what used to be called “in the know.”
Sloane Crosley knows, for example, exactly what kinds of feelings her book will inspire, which you can tell by reading her interviews, which you can find on Google.
Or you can just read her book.
Nancy Dalva, senior writer at 2wice, reviews books regularly for The Observer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.