A Review of Sloane Crosley’s “Cult Classic”
Sex and the City by the Dickens?
If you’re Canadian, you know that people from Toronto can be annoying — particularly since they seem to feel as though they are the literal centre of the universe, or at least the centre of the universe for all things Canadian. I’d imagine that for most people coming from New York City this is magnified 10 million times — certain New Yorkers, particularly ones who have a career in the media, feel that they’re somehow chicer, more superior, and trendier than anyone else on the planet. I don’t want to sound mean here, and you can draw your own conclusion from this admission of fact: with Cult Classic, you’re getting a book from an NYC writer who contributes to highly regarded publications such as The New York Times and Vanity Fair with some regularity. The title does have meaning to the text, but readers would be forgiven if they thought this was the sort of thing that someone too clever thought would earn them some clickbait on the bookstore shelf. I’m not trying to be churlish here, either, but Cult Classic is an exhausting novel that feels self-important. It’s the kind of book that someone from New York City, and particularly someone who is involved with the New York City media circus, would write. It’s like Sex and the City (without the female entourage) meets A Christmas Carol. Meaning that it wants to have its cake and eat it, too: be somewhat trendy but be in print a couple of centuries from now. Few books of this type exist in history, to my knowledge, so as an author you might have to pick one of those options, you know?
Cult Classic is a novel about a New Yorker in her late 30s named Lola. (And, yes, there’s a reference to the Kinks song in the book.) She is about to get married to a man she has nicknamed Boots. (Shades of Mr. Big?) However, during a dinner out at a trendy restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown with former colleagues from her days running a magazine, she darts out for a cigarette and runs into an ex-boyfriend. A day or so later, she runs into another — and, soon, it’s as though she keeps bumping into ghosts of Christmases Past! It turns out that Lola has an awful lot of exes, and she is getting a chance at closure by meeting them all one-by-one one last time before she marries. However, the exes are showing up via a sort of cult (but I’m not sure exactly if that’s what it is) run by her former boss that is using Lola as a guinea pig for a sci-fi-esque project that I didn’t really understand. I’m not even going to try to explain this part of the book, for it made absolutely no sense. The book would have been better (though possibly just as farfetched) if these encounters were strictly predicated on chance. I mean, the reason it would be hard to believe would be because New York is a city of, what? eight million people? What would the chances be of meeting past lovers, right, especially if some of them had moved to other states or were now living in other countries? So, yes, the author had to invent a scientific reason for these encounters that just doesn’t work.
In any event, I don’t want to seem as though I’m shooting this book down because it is written by a hipster-ish New York City woman and is seemingly aimed at other hipsters. There are things about the novel that I liked. For one, it does have a sense of humour as much as it feels conceited, for author Sloane Crosley drops forth the occasional pun and double entendre that may make the reader chuckle with delight. And I suppose the novel is relatable for me even as a man: like Lola, I used to have a collection of letters from exes — in my case, under my bed — that a now ex-common law spouse (in the eyes of the Canada Revenue Agency) made me throw out. However, that’s about all I can say that’s decent about this title. I hope I’m being fair and balanced here, but do we need another book about a nearly middle-aged woman who will never have to worry about how she will pay the rent due to plum bylines she keeps on getting opining about first-world problems in people’s love lives?
I don’t want to say that I hated this book — it wasn’t the worst book I’ve read — but I found parts of it to be boring. And the reason for that keeps coming back to the fact that the main characters are smug and self-centered and are a chore to be entertained by. I found it hard to be enamoured with a book that makes the reader think about past relationships that didn’t work out without acknowledging they may have had something to do with the main character being involved in a profession where late hours are a given. (For instance, it never crosses Lola’s mind at any point in this book that maybe her previous romances failed because she simply wasn’t giving enough time to them. Because, if you’re working as an editor at a magazine, you’re going to be working a lot of late nights — which is why many journalism-y people retire at 30 to start families and, you know, have a taste of a seemingly normal life.) In any event, Cult Classic is not billed as advertised — and by that, I mean it will probably never be one or more than that. With characters as vain as this and a plot that just defies logic, even a twist of an ending can’t save this one from the doldrums. Readers deserve better than this narcissistic taste of seemingly important people living in a city that the world tends to revolve around. You really do. That’s all I can say.
Sloane Crosley’s Cult Classic was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD on June 7, 2022.
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