'Don't try so hard': Essayist Sloane Crosley on humour and writing her first novel

Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley, the 37-year-old essayist extraordinaire, is happy to admit the main feeling she has for the release of her first novel The Clasp is pure relief. "It was something I'd wanted to do for so long and I didn't know if I could do it, I didn't know if I still wanted to do it. Do you still want to do all the things you wanted to do when you were nine?" asks Crosley on the phone.

Part of her trepidation could be chalked up to the fact it wasn't her first attempt at a novel. That particular honour goes to a book she wrote at 22 that she describes as a "hodge-podge of faux literature".

"There are people, god love 'em, prodigies who bust out with novels when they're 17 and they're perfect and magical and wonderful. Mine simply was not any of those things," she says. 

The work never saw the light of day, but Crosley still eventually ended up bursting onto the literary scene with her bestselling, laugh-out-loud 2008 essay collection I Was Told There'd Be Cake, which garnered her a legion of fans, amongst them humorist David Sedaris who blurbed her 2010 book of essays, How Did You Get This Number. Prior to these successes, Crosley had been getting an insider's look at the publishing industry as a book publicist for a division of Random House, while fitting in her writing time outside work hours and during holiday periods.


"There's an element to having to work in certain time periods that's very healthy for you," says Crosley. "It took a while after quitting my job to write the novel to figure out the schedule, because if you're not careful you'll write 500 words over the course of six hours."

Her debut novel, The Clasp, was four years in the making and is this month being released in Australia. The book centres on a trio of friends who met at university, but now aren't sure if the ties that once bound them still exist. Victor has been fired from an unpopular search engine, Kezia works for a demanding jewellery designer and Nathaniel, once the golden boy of the group, is struggling professionally as he attempts to catch a break in Hollywood. Woven against this backdrop is the mystery of a legendary necklace that gets a stranglehold on Victor's psyche. The New York Times characterised the book as a "shrewd exploration of the modern-day late-quarter-life crisis, disguised as a caper".

Jewellery has always been an interest of Crosley's, in part sparked by a jewellery-making class she took in high school, and it serves as an apt metaphorical vehicle for her protagonists as they do the hard work of trying to find out what is genuine in their lives. "Isn't there a trick of biting gold to figure out if it's real? I'm imagining all of them doing that with their friendships, trying to figure out where they stand with each other and with themselves," says Crosley. "There are time periods in your life when you feel a real fork in the road. The whole conversation about what's real and what's not is coming up for all of them at the same time for a reason."

Guy de Maupassant's short story The Necklace serves as an important plot point in the novel, so Crosley spent a month in France while working on the book. "I have a very pure love of fiction and of short stories, of Flaubert, of Guy de Maupassant, of Balzac, but I'm not a literary scholar, so I had to do research," says Crosley. "Part of it was, yes, fairly clever experientialising – I didn't pick the world's most amazing writer from North Dakota. I chose wisely."

Crosley also lists Lorrie Moore, John Cheever, David Rakoff, Dorothy Parker and Katherine Mansfield as a few of the writers who have influenced her work, with Kezia being named after a character from Mansfield's short story, The Doll's House.

Fans of Crosley will be pleased to hear the switch to novel writing has not dulled the sharp wit that peppers her essays and journalism. Trying to pinpoint what makes something funny is not easy, but Crosley does have some advice for aspiring writers. "It's maybe the key to anything – don't try so hard.

"And also don't be concerned with humour, if you're only aiming for humour you generally miss the mark. Humour is the vehicle to get your point across, not the end goal."

Sloane Crosley's The Clasp ($32.99, Hutchinson) is out now.