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While she’s “not Angelina Jolie” famous, Sloane Crosley ’00 is sometimes recognized at restaurants.
By Amy Martin
n the process of freezing her eggs, Sloane Crosley accidentally froze $1,500 worth of human hormones.
In her defense, the package, which contained vials of injectable medication to stimulate egg production for women interested in preserving their eggs for fertilization at a later date, wasn’t clearly labeled. Still, Crosley’s pharmacist admitted that no one else had ever managed to make the same mistake.
“I was the hot coffee case of the reproductive medicine world,” Crosley writes in her latest collection of essays, Look Alive Out There.
The intimate tale of Crosley’s foray into fertility is, like all the essays appearing in Look Alive Out There, packed with the author’s signature wit and self-deprecating humor. The new book is a return to the form that made Crosley a household name in, as her press materials boast, “really quite a lot of households.”
Not that she sees it that way. The New York Times’ best-selling author of two previous books of personal essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number, released her debut novel, The Clasp, to critical acclaim in 2015.
“Because of the nature of essays, it doesn’t feel like going back—I was writing some of them when I was working on the novel,” she says. “At this point, it’s in my blood. You don’t want your muscles to atrophy.”
Oscillating between fiction and nonfiction feels natural, and also therapeutic, she says.
“If I’m cleaning one room, and I get bored, I’ll go do another project. It’s like that for me with fiction and nonfiction,” she says. “With fiction, you are in charge of the characters’ whole world and every detail in that world. With nonfiction, so much is ‘not your fault.’ Your experiences, your perception, your memory—those things are done for you. It’s a switch of responsibility.”
Plato to Gossip Girl
Crosley is preparing to embark on a 20-city book tour to promote Look Alive Out There, and she’s excited.
“I love meeting readers. It’s the coolest thing. And it never gets old. Whether it’s at a book signing or in a restaurant—I mean, I’m not Angelina Jolie, but occasionally I’ll have a waitress who will run my credit card and notice my name and say something,” she jokes.
“I love meeting booksellers, too. I also really like small hotel soaps and shampoos. Booksellers and readers and small soaps are awesome.”
Ten years after the release of I Was Told There’d Be Cake, Crosley still writes about her life as a series of hilarious mishaps and dubious missteps. Yet she also hopes her readers see more maturity in both her storytelling and her subject matter.
“I feel confident in [Look Alive Out There] in a way that I haven’t about the other books. It’s about getting closer and closer with every step to saying exactly what you want to say.”
Whether she’s chasing after a stranger in a wheelchair, battling with noisy teenage neighbors or risking death on the side of a mountain in Ecuador—“a massive landform I apparently can’t be bothered to Google”—Crosley’s ability to capture the “humor in exasperation” is instantly relatable and undeniably entertaining.
Much of her humor shines through in the analogies that saturate Crosley’s work.
“In all my books, I use a big swing of references—it’s Plato and it’s Gossip Girl,” she says. “Analogies are one of the easiest and richest ways to articulate what we see in front of us.”
Crosley doesn’t just write in analogies—she speaks in them too. Asking her to choose her favorite essay in Look Alive Out There is like asking her to “choose among my vast collection of Fabergé eggs,” she says.
“But it’s almost like a cappuccino. If I could just skim some off the top, the really light foam, there are two or three. … But they all represent something slightly different about what I feel like this collection is about. Imagine it as less of a book and more of a talent show—this is the poetry, this is the juggling, this is the singing.”
If Look Alive Out There is a talent show, The Clasp is an ode to the short story. Inspired by Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace,” Crosley’s novel tells the story of three estranged college friends who reunite in their late 20s at a friend’s wedding. Each in the middle of an identity crisis of sorts, they find themselves slipping back into their old roles before a series of events leads them on an ill-fated adventure through France in search of something that—just like the necklace in de Maupassant’s story—turns out not to be real.
“I have always appreciated the short story, since I was a kid, and I thought it was unheralded. Every other art form gets a novel—opera, dance, painting—I thought the short story should get one, too,” Crosley says.
Crosley credits the “wildly influential” Blanche Boyd, Weller Professor of English and writer-in-residence, with cementing her love of short stories in college. And Conn’s influence doesn’t end there; throughout The Clasp, Crosley’s main characters flash back to their days at a fictional New England liberal arts college that will feel more than vaguely familiar to readers of this magazine.
“There’s a little Conn DNA in there,” Crosley says.
Some of the peripheral characters were also inspired by Crosley’s real-life college friends, but, like any good characters, they quickly took on a life of their own.
“The second you write fiction, there’s a mutation that happens,” she says. “It’s weird to remember the cue ball break of inspiration, the people who first made you create a character.”
In her essays, of course, Crosley writes about real people, examining her own complex relationships—with friends, relatives, boyfriends, neighbors and even strangers—to make pointed observations about the human condition. That can be tricky, she admits, but over time she’s developed a nuanced approach to writing about those with whom she’s closest.
“It’s not that I’ve softened. I’ve become sharper and more sensitive,” she says. “There’s a common expression: It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. That’s good for women in the workplace and military coups, but not for interpersonal relationships.”
Hope for a puppet
Crosley recalls her own experience at Conn as complicated, imperfect and, at times, redeeming. She had professors she loved—Boyd, of course, but also Haskell Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence Charles Hartman and the late Professor of Anthropology Harold Juli.
“He stepped out of central casting of what a professor is supposed to be like,” Crosley says of Juli. “I think we took a shine to each other, but I think everyone feels that way about him. You think you are the only girl at the dance, but you’re not.”
While she found her academic comfort zone at Conn, Crosley says she always felt slightly out of place despite having been elected senior class president.
“That’s a fun fact,” she says. “I don’t feel like I was a cool kid. I don’t feel like a class president person.”
After graduation, Crosley moved to New York City and worked in book publicity until 2011, when she decided to focus on writing full time. In addition to her books, she is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, a columnist for The Village Voice and the New York Observer, and the books columnist and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Interview magazine.
Crosley has even made the jump into screenwriting—she’s sold television pilots to HBO and Hulu, and Universal acquired the movie rights to The Clasp in 2016.
“It’s strange adapting your own work. You already did it in a way you thought the story would best be told, and now you are trying to stuff it back in the egg and hope it comes back a puppet,” she says.