Anyone who's crossed over the threshold of 30 knows the existential angst of being that age, particularly when trying to navigate friendships, and frenemy-ships, and straight-up hatreds with peers who all seem to have life on lock more than you do. Sloane Crosley, author of two best-selling humor essay collections about her own floundering toward adulthood (2008's I Was Told There'd Be Cake and 2010's How Did You Get This Number), is something of an expert when it comes to generational observation — a Lena Dunham for people who experienced college without Facebook or cell phones. And now she's written her first novel, The Clasp, out today.
The plot centers around three single college friends on the edge of 30 who aren't even sure they like each other anymore, yet embark on an adventure to find a valuable necklace that is somehow related to Guy de Maupassant's cautionary short story "The Necklace," about the dangers of trusting appearances. (It's really funny, and Amanda Seyfried even blurbed it! Kind of.) The most fun part, though, might be Crosley's keen observations of certain people you meet at that time in your life, which sound very familiar to anyone who is or has been that age. They’re also told in the very biting wit of three protagonists — disgruntled singleton Kezia, failed screenwriter Nathaniel, and misanthropic kleptomaniac Victor — who are all terrible people. So we pulled some choice descriptions from the book and called up Crosley to discuss her inspirations, and to talk some smack about fictional characters who all sound like someone we know. (Also, not sure if this applies to books, but spoilers ahead.)
1. The Happily Married Ex–Co-Worker Who Treats You As Her Single Pet
Kezia's ex–co-worker, Meredith, has been twice promoted at a job Kezia left for a much worse one (see No. 3), and is married to Michael, an ER resident who merrily cooks and hand-churns ice cream for Meredith's girlfriends. They live in an apartment decorated with framed LPs, subversive needlepoint art, and a bathtub big enough to accommodate Valentine’s Day photo shoots. They are genuinely happy together.
"There’s a couple that gets portrayed a lot on TV — the obnoxious couple — and Meredith and Michael aren’t like that. They might occasionally slip up and say things like, 'I’m so boring! I have to live vicariously through you!' which I think is one of the top five worst things you can say to a single person, but they genuinely love their friend," says Crosley, who's in a relationship but remembers many a dinner as the lone single person in a sea of couples.
Still, these blissful types can be hard to take. "I have been to apartments like Meredith and Michael’s," Crosley goes on. "Someone lives in a reclaimed fill-in-the blank and they’ve made you organic fill-in-the-blank and later they lead you to sleep in a bed made from fill-in-the blank. You want to Talented Mr. Ripley their entire apartment. They're not brandishing their happiness in front of you to be cruel; they’ve just forgotten what it’s like to be single."
2. The Self-Obsessed College Friend More Concerned With Documenting the Experience Than Living It
The first part of the book is set in Miami, at the wedding of Caroline, a society girl from Boston who's marrying an exotic German-Cuban named Felix. Caroline is, as Crosley puts it, "a summarizer rather than a dweller," whose entire life is oriented around appearances. She has no time for depressive Victor and his inability to be Instagram-worthy. At college, she was that girl who partied as if she was checking all the boxes, as if thinking, Crosley writes, "Now is the time I am going to create wild memories with my friends. Then, in a few hours, I shall stop being wasted, step off this piece of furniture I shouldn’t be standing on anyway, and pass out." Her parents sent her care packages of New York deli meat and French macarons. Crosley describes her look as "current Jenna Bush."
“You know the person who always seems to be directing their own biopic?" says Crosley. "I definitely went to college with some people like that. I am so happy that I did not come of age when there was a combination of people like Caroline and Instagram. She’s the sort who will accept somebody she doesn’t like into the friend group because she doesn’t want to be perceived as upsetting the friend group. She is all smiles, but if you scratch the surface you’ll find a lot of nefarious motivations. She’s incredibly conservative, very New England, oblivious and controlling. I also like that she’s not a thin, perfect person. Part of it is that she can have whatever she wants, and she doesn’t want anyone disturbing that."
3. The Sophisticated College Friend Who Always Seems to Have Emerged From a Spa (at Noon on a Thursday)
Another girl from the protagonists’ friendship circle is Olivia, a chain-bikini-wearing sophisticado with extreme cleavage who wears only black sweaters, not because she's recycling the same outfit but because she has 20 black sweaters. Even though Kezia has known Olivia since college, she has no idea exactly what job she does, and it’s too late to ask. It could be visual merchandising, or maybe something to do with “events”? Olivia is the kind of person who comes from a world where people wake, as Crosley writes, “guiltlessly at eleven o’clock having slept in negligees.”
“She’s one of those people who looks at you like you're a three-headed monster with no taste when you compliment something they have laying around their house because it’s actually from the Venezuelan H&M," Crosley says. "I find there a lot of those types in New York, and in some ways you want their life. Olivia walks through the world without a care. The difference between her and Caroline is that Caroline is trying to control her life. She makes sure every Instagram picture is perfectly posed, and that there’s an appropriate ratio of dogs [to] selfies. Olivia doesn’t care about that because she just is cool.”
4. The Boss Who Refers to Herself in the Third Person
The most fun character to loathe in the book is probably Rachel Simone, Kezia's eccentric jewelry-designer boss. She’s committed to a “general Annie Hall aesthetic," while her designs include reclaimed cement pipes, lace-covered resin, and petrified rat teeth. She works from a loft and has an arty photograph of her bulldog, Saul, whom she can never be without, in her bathroom. She once removed a dogwood branch from an urn, followed Kezia into an elevator, and repeatedly slapped her over the head with it, for no apparent reason.
“I have a former friend who is like Rachel," Crosley says. "She’s the sort of person who would come to your birthday and then tell you that they missed their flight to make it. Even if changing that flight had nothing to do with you or your party, they take it as an opportunity to build up credit somehow. And then would later ask you to make a real sacrifice. People would always describe her as completely loyal, and when I’d ask for an example, they’d say, 'Well, she’s the sort of person you could call if you were stuck in a Mexican prison.' I think people want to come to the rescue like that, especially in a city like this. Most people, if only for the story, would get on the plane and go to the Mexican prison to bail you out. But real loyalty is asking how you are, calling someone because you know they had a job interview."
5. The Hot Dude Who's Baffled Why You're Not Grateful He's Deigning to Sleep With You
After Caroline’s wedding, Kezia ends up in bed with Judson, an attractive guy from Dallas who's usually a pig when it comes to women. He looks like a young James Spader, an evil lifeguard, or a waxed Burt Reynolds (take your pick), and he has a sexy tattoo of Superman's Fortress of Solitude between his thigh and his groin. Instead of sleeping with him, Kezia makes him stay up all night telling riddles. He GChats her asking what she’s wearing as soon as he’s back at work on Monday.
“I don’t know many guys who put that much pomade on their hair," says Crosley. "I mean, I know they are in New York. Maybe I'm just not exposed to them? Judson is used to feeling really hot and getting any girl he wants, and here he is confounded by this woman he’s brought home from this wedding who is not as superficially attractive as he’s used to, doesn’t find him amusing, and is also kind of a know-it-all. You know that guy who goes into the evening thinking he’s an Olympic figure skater and this is the Ice Capades? He thinks you are going to be so grateful, and then has a rude awakening when he realizes that particular girl just doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. It probably also has something to do with wealth in New York. But I also feel for Judson, he’s just sort of a dum-dum. When they go home together, Kezia and Judson are punching above their weight in different ways. I was trying to put myself in the brain of guys I may have gone home with in my 20s. I have definitely stayed up all night with a guy like Judson. When Judson asks himself, ‘Is there going to be sex at the end of this nonsense paved road?’ I was trying to be empathetic to that person.”
6. The Actor With a Literary Tattoo
One of the main characters, Nathaniel, is tortured by an actress named Bean, who failed to text him after a steamy hookup. She has a D.H. Lawrence quote tattooed on her bicep (she saw it on the menu at a farm-to-table restaurant in Marfa, because of course she did) and is currently dating a Jack Nicholson look-alike. She’s performatively skinny, a bit of a bitch, and partial to dressing in wifebeaters and her boyfriend’s fedora.
"She’s more of an L.A. person," says Crosley. "I see these profiles of people like Bean on these blogs that have these ridiculous names, like Panther or Shine Chicken. They will profile some girl who used to do burlesque and now has her own line of hand-painted lampshades. These people make me want to flick myself in the eye. You shouldn’t be rewarded for simply having a hobby." Crosley didn't include this choice descriptor in the book, but, she says, "if you were to strip Bean, she probably has a tattoo against her ribs and it’s in Latin. It’s not quite as bad as putting a Japanese character on you that says, 'Go fuck a cow,' but it’s an elevated version of that. Bean would be the queen of ghosting, and it would fall on deaf ears if you said you were upset about something."
Crosley recalls how, in her pre-author life, as a publicist for Vintage Books, she had an assistant just like Bean. She was the kind of person "who makes a mistake and is oblivious," Crosley says. "I’d say, 'Hey, you sent this press release out to 300 people, and you spelled the author’s name wrong.’ And they’d look over my shoulder and go, 'Oh, yeah, look at that. Huh.' And I’m thinking, What surfboard hut did you crawl out of? Not everyone in New York is as tightly wound as you want them to be."
7. The Cowboy-Boot-Wearing Co-Worker Who Gets a Contact High From Being Around a Phone that Won't Stop Ringing
Kezia, has a younger, overeager colleague named Sophie, who has bought into their boss’s myth of herself (see No. 3). She’s passive-aggressive, lacks the references to understand your best jokes, and magically materializes — complete with hyperperky smile and a decidedly earnest attitude — to tend to Rachel’s every need. Oh, and she talks cutesy to inanimate objects as if they're people.
“Stress is her drug," Crosley says. "She is generally younger, and not to be confused with someone who's ambitious. I have encountered very few people like this over the years, but that's more because I have avoided them and less because they don't exist. But what I love about Sophie is how physically fawnlike she is, how she loves to play with stickers and anthropomorphizes everything, how she feels a sense of superiority over Kezia. She offers to solve Kezia's problems for her or expressing pride in her, which you should never do to a person older than you — they don't need it."
8. The Model Who Is Genuinely Cool and Smart
Nathaniel, an L.A.-based screenwriter, is pleasantly surprised when he finds Meghan, an aspiring model from Philadelphia, asleep on his couch. Her likes include open men’s shirts and Brazil-nut milk, and she smells like berries and sex. She renders men speechless with precoital phone-in-vagina antics (as in she literally sticks Nathaniel's phone up her vag when he's on a call with another chick) and plans to go to law school.
"It would have been easy to make Meghan a faux-deep dingbat, but I already had Bean," Crosley says. "She is perhaps the most grounded person in the novel, including the main characters. She's a giant slice-of-life perspective on legs — very long legs — and I like that men are both taken aback by and envious of her intelligence. I like that she hails from Philly, too. I have a nice group of friends from there, and she reminds me of them — cool, wise, very down-to-earth. She also reminds me of the person you meet at a party, if you're lucky, who surprises you in her willingness to talk some thoughtful but pointed smack about a person, television show, or neighborhood that everyone else loves. She's fearless without being rude, and the kind of woman I'd want to be friends with. But because it's Nathaniel who gets to know her and not me, he just wants to screw her. Which, okay, is understandable.”
9. The Attention-Seeking Bridesmaid
Before Kezia goes home with Judson, she watches Marlene, a spray-tanned bridesmaid, attempt to seduce him by doing cutesy things involving her tongue and maraschino-cherry stems.
“Before I judge this person too hard, I should cop to the fact that I have done some pretty childlike things to grab an adult man's attention, which doesn't look good for either me or the adult man," Crosley says. "I like to think of mine as more sophisticated. I've made origami out of paper straw-wrappers, but is it really so different from Marlene, who holds her finger up and asks for a moment of patience as she ties a cherry stem with her tongue? I doubt it. I don't disdain any of my characters, but those who make the briefest appearances usually have it the worst. And Marlene covers about three pages total, so the odds are not in her favor. The experience of reading the novel and the experience of meeting a Marlene at a party in real life are identical: You have no idea where this person's attention-seeking behavior comes from. Daddy issues? Lack of self-esteem? A scoliosis brace as a child? You only know that it's irritating and she's eating all the cocktail cherries.”