Review: Sloane Crosley’s “I Was Told There’d Be Cake”

11 Jun

I judged this book by it’s cover, I’ll admit.  The cover is a floral mattress pattern with the title splashed across it.  The kitchiness of the pattern implies her quirkiness, the mattress implies sex, and the title implies dessert.  I bought the book, I’m ashamed to admit, through Amazon rather than the local bookstore in which I first spotted it.  Hey, I’m not perfect.  And as it turns out, neither is Ms. Crosley’s book.  

 

cake_cover

 

The likes of some of my favorite writers extoll Crosley’s wit and writing on the back of the book.  Jonathan Ames says the book is “charming, elegant, wise and comedic” and that Crosley is “a twenty-first-century Dorothy Parker.”  I was told there’d be wit.

 

And there was.  “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” is a collection of mini-memoirs, personal essays covering topics ranging from Oregon Trail, a favorite game of my childhood to the letdown one feels when told they don’t have that potentially serious medical ailment for which they were being tested.  I can relate to Sloane.  Almost too well.  My critique of her writing mirrors critiques of my own- a little too witty, a little too ironic, and just not quite satisfying.  My college poetry professor, one of the smartest men I’ve ever met, once told me that my writing was “sparkling with irony” and that most people enjoyed that kind of thing, but for him, it was a little too chatty.  I found myself remembering his words as I read Ms. Crosley’s essays.  And I found myself thinking on more that one occasion “I could have written this,” both meaning I could write in Ms. Crosley’s tone, but that I could be writing the very same essay.  In one, she discusses the merits and pitfalls of growing up with an odd name for a girl. In another, she uses a tart as a metaphor for a crumbling relationship.  “I have a weird name!” I thought, “I once wrote a play that ends with a tart on the ground, symbolizing a girl’s estrangement from her father!”  

 

One would think my familiarity with her subject matter and writing style would draw me in, would seduce me, would make me love the book without even considering it’s substance or proper execution.  But not so. Perhaps I’m too egotistical and resent Sloane for telling stories like mine, in the way that I would tell them.  Perhaps, as Jewel once sang, I hate her ’cause she’s “pieces of me.”  Perhaps the fact that she actually wrote the book I could have written bothers me because it points out my own laziness.  But I think that while these are all true, the bigger take home is that Crosley’s wit is just a little too witty.  She seems so pleased with herself throughout the whole book, and while she mercilessly pokes fun at herself and her own inadequacies, she manages to be completely smug while doing it.  Nowhere in the book does she betray a sense of vulnerability. Her wit gets in the way of me really caring about her.  So what’s the lesson, kids?  I don’t know- I guess if you’re planning to publish a book of witty essays about yourself, take out a joke or two and throw in a story about your puppy dying or something just to balance the scales.  

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