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I Was Told Thered Be Cake Essays

>Review: I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

>by Kevin Eagan

Growing up in middle class suburbia has become the height of American comfort, but it’s also true that it breeds a certain level of eccentricity — at least, for those who came of age in all of its pre-packaged glory. Blame it on the lack of originality; the strip malls, the four-lane divided highways, and the big box retailers all start to look the same after a while, and those seeking a thrill end up in the city trying to make it in a completely different world.

While David Sedaris’ bestselling essays have shown that coming of age in suburbia can be an absurd experience, he’s not the only writer who portrays the urban-suburban divide in a hilarious way. As America has moved out of the urban centers and created a new level of urban sprawl, it could be said that the suburban life is about as American as you can get.

Count Sloane Crosley as one more essayist who has endured a childhood in the suburbs, and has a hilarious (albeit slightly eccentric) way of looking at her upbringing. For Crosley, childhood was about working at the mall, surviving the rigors of an all-girls summer camp, and getting a high score on the computer game Oregon Trail.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake is Crosley’s first collection of essays, and nothing is held back. Throughout the 15 essays, Crosley takes us on a trip through some of her most hilarious and heartfelt experiences, both as a successful urban woman in New York City and as a self-conscious girl growing up in Westchester, NY (“I came to understand that being born and raised in suburbia makes it difficult to lay claim to a specific type of childhood,” Crosley writes).

Crosley’s clever way of looking at life and her unique use of language makes I Was Told There’d Be Cake a fun read, and each essay will have you laughing at the odd and bizarre situations Crosley gets herself into. In the first essay, “The Pony Problem,” Crosley’s attempts at finding uniqueness (by making jokes about ponies) gets interpreted by everyone around her that she really likes ponies, and before you know it, she has a drawerful of plastic ponies that she just can’t bring herself to throw away, even though she thinks they are “insanely creepy.”

“The Pony Problem” is just one example of how Crosley’s dark humor creates an engaging and unique look at life. In “Bring-Your-Machete-To-Work Day,” Crosley’s inner child and “awkward” transition into teenager left her abusing her favorite computer game Oregon Trail by naming all of her characters after people she knew, and then watching them suffer: “Eventually a message would pop up in the middle of the screen, framed in a neat box: MRS. ROSS HAS DIED OF DYSENTERY. This filled me with glee.”

In “You On A Stick,” Crosley also re-visits her childhood through her “best” friend’s wedding, and her sardonic inner monologue reveals the friendship as a complete fraud, but one that works well for the wedding cameras. Of course, Crosley lets us know the truth, that being maid of honor is a chore that’s not worth the brouhaha: “‘Horror is a six-letter word. So is ‘fuck me.’”

Throughout the collection, language is used to great effect, and Crosley’s clever word play portrays otherwise mundane events in an original way. In “Lay Like Broccoli,” Crosley defends her vegetarian diet by “[keeping] a set of (vegetable) stock answers at my disposal for all queries about my diet,” and in “Smell This,” Crosley discovers an unpleasant object on her bathroom floor after a party, and tries to deduce who left the surprise: “Jesus, she’s got shit on her floor.”

I Was Told There’d Be Cake is an excellent start for a writer who has spent most of her career surrounded by books (she also works as a publicist for Vintage/Anchor books), and it certainly suggests that Crosley has more to come. The collection is both a wonderful read and an excellent critique of the suburban upbringing. Crosley’s Web site also provides an interesting extension to the book, and adds a level of multimedia output that sets her writing ahead of many of her predecessors. Overall, I Was Told There’d Be Cake won’t take long to read and will have you laughing the whole time.

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Humorous collection of autobiographical essays from a single, 20-something woman in New York City.

Crosley begins by reminiscing about the peculiarities of her parents and sister, and the childhood influences that amused and obsessed her. One piece riffs on the now-defunct computer game Oregon Trail, which provided “the illusion I was actually going somewhere.” At age 12, little did she know that she would become a well-connected book publicist in New York. Much of the material concerns haphazard encounters from her early adult years. She appears to have made an indelible impression on her many close friends and acquaintances, as demonstrated when a former high-school classmate phoned seemingly out of the blue to ask Crosley to be her maid of honor. This is exactly the sort of awkwardly one-sided intimacy that the author stumbles upon, gets tangled in and then, with an inward grimace and external graciousness, attempts to make the best of. One of the strongest and funniest essays tracks her tenure as an assistant to a woman with whom she definitely did not get along. Their antagonistic relationship deteriorated into stony silence after Crosley baked a cookie in her boss’s likeness and presented it at the office. “Sometimes, when you do something so marvelously idiotic,” she writes, “it’s hard to retrace your thought process using the functional logic now available to you.” Another, about her move from one Manhattan apartment to another, tells of the day she managed to lock herself out of both. In Crosley’s version of adulthood, her gravest responsibility is to protect and revel in her own happiness and well-being. Her essays display the same exacting attention to detail as those of David Sedaris and an exuberance similar to Beth Lisick’s, along with a self-deprecating slant and appealing modesty all her own: “Should I get killed during the day…back in the apartment I never should have left, the bed has gone unmade and the dishes unwashed.”

Witty and entertaining.