Monday, September 22, 2008
monday book review: i was told there'd be cake, by sloane crosley
I don't know about you, but this last week was a bit of a kick in the gut for me.  A variety of things combined to get me feeling rather lousy, and it didn't take very long for me to realize that the Dick Cheney book I was reading wasn't exactly helping my situation. In search of something to lift my spirits, I turned to Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake, a collection of essays you may remember being reviewed over at "Chasing Paper" by the lovely Ms. Carrie.  And wouldn't you know, Crosley's light and airy essays - written on subjects ranging from summer camps to bridesmaids to vegetarianism - proved to be just what I needed. 

Though not hilarious exactly, Crosley's stories are cleverly amusing, odd enough to be entertaining but universal enough for most anyone to find them relateable, and the storyteller herself comes across as being witty, charming, and just self-deprecating enough. After reading her collection, Sloane Crosley has officially secured herself a place on my list of 'famous chicks I'd like to have beer with.' (Which is really quite the little honor, I'll have you know. It's a fairly short list.)

And since this is one of those times when I feel examples speak louder than descriptions, here's a passage that made me chuckle. It comes from a essay titled "Bastard out of Westchester", in which Crosley describes a childhood spent growing up in a bland suburb and the subsequent disappointment she feels over the news that her family will not be moving to Australia after all:
If I ever have kids, this is what I'm going to do with them: I am going to give birth to them on foreign soil - preferably the soil of some place like Oostende or Antwerp - destinations that have the allure in which people are casually trilingual and everyone knows how to make good coffee and gourmet dinners at home without having to shop for specific ingredients. Everyone has hip European sneakers that effortlessly look like the exact pair you've been searching for your whole life. Everything is sweetened with honey and even the generic-brand Q-tips are aesthetically packaged. People die from old age or crimes of passion or because they fall off glaciers. All the women are either thin, thin and happy, fat and happy, or thin and miserable in a glamorous way. Somehow none of their Italian heels get caught in the fifteenth-century cobblestone. Ever.

This is where I want to raise my children - until the age of, say, ten, when I'll cruelly rip them out of the stream where they're fly-fishing with their other lederhosened friends and move them to someplace like Lansdale, Pennsylvania. There, they can be not only the cool new kid, but also the Belgian kid. And none of that Toblerone-eating, Tintin-reading, tulip-growing crap. I want them to be obscurely, freezingly, impossibly Belgian. I want them to be fluent in Flemish and to pronounce "Antwerpen" with a hint of "vh" embedded in the "w."

Why go through all the trouble of giving a ten-year-old an existential heart attack by applying culture shocks like they were nipple clamps? Because, ten-year-olds of the world, you shouldn't believe what your teachers tell you about the beauty and specialness and uniqueness of you. Or, believe it, little snowflake, but know it won't make a bit of difference until after puberty. It's Newton's lost law: anything that makes you unique later will get your chocolate milk stolen and your eye blackened as a kid.
And I can't help but think that my Grandpa Nestor, himself a Belgian immigrant whose uniqueness was largely lost on the playground bullies of his youth, would have whole-heartedly agreed.

Sloane Crosley
230 pages, 2008

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