(MCD Press, July 2022)
Sloane Crosley, author of three essay collections and one novel, The Clasp (2015), is a force to be reckoned with, especially when writing about the romantic lives of thirty-somethings in New York City. Her new book Cult Classic supports this notion with the quirky characters, her deep knowledge of lower Manhattan, and her droll and confessional prose. Here is an example to whet the readers’ appetite: “I did not need another poet, arguing that depression was the only reasonable side effect of intelligence.”
The book opens with Lola, 38, a journalist, out to dinner in Chinatown with her former coworkers from Modern Psychology magazine who include Clive Glenn, “[the] erstwhile king” and former editor in chief, Zach, who now works in the editorial department for a headhunter, and Vadis, who moved on to answer to a socialite for a living. These eclectic characters drive the plot, beginning with Lola bumping into a former boyfriend Amos, an author, outside the restaurant. Amos “had a way of presenting quotidian problems as karmic ailments.” After this meeting, she began questioning her commitment to Boots, her fiancée: “I imagined [Boots and I] were siblings who’d been assigned to the same bed on a family trip.” But it happens again … the next night at the same restaurant. This time, she runs into former flame Willis, an Olympic long jumper who “looks like a giant ligament” whom she also compares to Boots.
What is happening? Why is Lola running into her ex-boyfriends so frequently? Vadis might have the answer when she accompanies Lola to a lower Manhattan synagogue, which is “wedged between the bodega and a former tenement building.” Inside, carved on one of the beams were the Hebrew letters “This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous will enter through it.” This is the home of Golconda, Clive’s tech, new age venture that helps participants reconnect with people from their past, so they can gain closure and move on. Clive received the inspiration from:
Soren Jørgensen an elevator repairman who founded a TM-based thought movement … He began theorizing the human mind was similar to the pulleys and wheels of a traction elevator … When you call for an elevator, it seems as if the cab is being pushed up from below or down from above. Just like when you have a new thought it seems like it’s being pushed from the inside out.
Golconda, named after “a very famous impenetrable seventeenth-century citadel in Central India,” even features a meditation room where people sit around and think about their subjects all day. Lola was not sold, believing that Golconda was simply a cult, but Clive vouched for the efficacy of the venture, and Lola has experienced the power of the project through her meetings with Amos and Willis.
Lola’s diaristic narrative continues while Boots, who blows glass for a living, is on the west coast hawking his product. She encounters another ex, Dave Egan, a facile fellow, near Chrystie Street, before running across Jonathan, her college steady who lives in the East Village. But when she spots Howard, a linguistics professor, she becomes concerned: “Had I thought about this man? I didn’t think I had. Did I miss Howard or compare Boots to him or associate him with a feature of the world?” Crosley is really flexing her ability to pen speculative fiction at this point, but she continues writing about Lola crossing paths with exes, including Oscar the “bourgeois bohemian” and Knox who has a “broken-bird complex.”
These coincidental meetings all occur near Canal Street, and to depict such a realistic story, Crosley must write accurately about the area and restaurants there, which she does by first describing the life as a straphanger getting off at the Canal Street stop:
The view from Varick, looking east, was like approaching a town in the Old West. The humble parks and 99-cent pizza places ended abruptly when the lofts and factories sprang up, giving the skyline the air of a Potemkin village.
She then takes readers to the “fancy end of Canal [Street]” where healthy restaurants are situated, and to her dinners with friends in Chinatown, where she would “zigzag through the streets […] admiring the intersection of lettering [she’d] never understand.” She even takes the reader uptown to the prestigious New York Athletic Club on Central Park South where Willis presented an award.
Cult Classic will entertain readers with its clever plot, replete with a plot twist and surprising denouement. Crosley’s genius and unique voice are further highlighted through her idiosyncratic characters and her ability to write across genres. She is a rare wonder whose spirited imagination places her right at the top. As a treat, the author may even divulge to her readers the significance of Lola’s meetings with her ex-lovers, if Boots gets kicked to the curb, or if he makes it back home to her safely.