Sloane Crosley is one of the funniest women writing today. Her two previous essay collections, How Did You Get This Number and I Was Told There’d be Cake, are confessional, often self-deprecating, and always funny. Her debut novel, The Clasp, continues to explore similar themes. She launched the book–available in multiple colored covers–at BookCourt in Brooklyn last week.
The novel, she explains, is actually a tribute to the short story, a genre she adores. The narrative is told through three different characters while mixing in vignettes of other people the three main characters encounter.
Crossing over into fiction doesn’t mean Crosley has left behind the autobiographical. There are plenty of elements in the book that are straight from her own experience. “I knew what I wanted to take with me to the fiction,” she explains.
The challenge in fiction is that the author becomes wholly responsible for the narrative. In nonfiction, a writer is to some extent beholden to the truth. There is a responsibility to be honest. In some ways, falling back on the truth is easier as an excuse to explain why a narrative is imperfect.
Essays also end. The shorter length makes essays easier to writer while the novel keeps on going. There are some elements that Crosley fictionalized in the novel that could have been essays had she had a frame. Most of the elements though are taken from other people.
One of the other challenges Crosley faced was writing sections from a man’s perspective. She says the switching gender roles for a narrator required new ways of thinking about the text.
Crosley says that writers often claim their characters take on a life of their own and seize the narrative. For her, a it took some time for that to happen in part because this book was her first fictional endeavor. For her, she found it easier to think about what the characters wouldn’t say, and then building from there.
The novel follows a group of college friends in the period after college–a not too uncommon theme for a books and films in recent years. Crosley explains that she finds this juncture in people’s lives fascinating. There is is comfort in that these friends are like family, but also the threat of never escaping who you were.
There are some differences between fiction and essays. In essays, writers are most beholden to the voice. In fiction, it is the story.
Writing anything is potentially embarrassing, she says, because the writer is always exposed. With nonfiction essays, not everything that has happened is the writer’s fault. Those are simply the things that happened. In fiction, everything is the writer’s choice and the writer is responsible for what happens. Or what doesn’t. In nonfiction, you are writing about people. In fiction, it is a one woman production, she says, you can’t hide.