Sloane Crosley will read from The Clasp tomorrow, Tuesday June 28 at 7pm at Elliott Bay.
Sloane Crosley will read from The Clasp tomorrow, Tuesday June 28 at 7pm at Elliott Bay Book Co. Caitlin Mitchell

Essayist Sloane Crosley's debut novel The Clasp is based on, or inspired by, or oriented toward Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace," a short story that's ostensibly about a lifetime wasted working to pay for a valuable necklace that turns out to have been a fake all along, but that's really more about its protagonist's discovery that it takes very little to ruin or save a life.

So it is with The Clasp itself; the novel is about a necklace, but its most interesting bits are not. Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor, three college friends, reunite at a wedding, where Victor becomes obsessed with a long ago stolen necklace after chatting with the mother of the groom. He decides to head to France to try to track it down, and Kezia and Nathaniel follow. While the book is in part a madcap adventure with corresponding hijinks, its more compelling aspect is Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor's clumsy attempts to love one another and to identify what, if anything, might ruin or save them.

More impressively, Crosley perfectly illuminates the inertia of her three protagonists, all of whom are standing at that moment between their twenties and thirties when one realizes there are more impossibilities than possibilities for one's future. And even more impressively, she does it and without ever once letting the writing itself feel inert. While The Clasp jumps up and down on the link between the crazy caper side of the story and its emotional core—clasps are for closing necklaces, but also for hugging friends—a little hard at times, Victor, Nathaniel, and Kezia are so vividly frustrating and familiar that the novel emerges as deeply pleasing.

If you think that’s easy for me to say, I should disclose the fact that I carried around a vague distaste for Crosley for years, fueled by a jealousy I never took the time to pinpoint. I have a vague recollection that I disliked her for being younger than I am (she isn’t), for earning her MFA at the same time as I did but at a more prestigious university (she didn’t), or making flippant references in the press to how shiny her hair is (she did, but in fairness, her hair is, in fact, really shiny, and good for her).

Still, if I search way, way back in my Gmail history, there are multiple messages in which I announce, "I don't understand Sloane Crosley's whole thing," even though I didn't, at the time, illuminate what I thought that whole thing was. Nor can I properly identify it today, many years later. If I had to guess, the "whole thing" that got under my skin was that she had A) actually written a book that B) people praised and enjoyed and bought, thus C) beating me to it since D) I, at 24, I was obviously running out of time.

On reflection, this envy was odd and misplaced, given that I was not really actually even trying that hard to write a book of my own because I was being kept busy with a combination of florid mania and crying in public. When Crosley's first book was released, I'd just moved back to Seattle from New York, a city where not having an "and" after the description of one's day job was cause for disdain. ("I'm a nanny, and I'm finishing a book that's an extension of my MFA thesis" was acceptable. "I'm a nanny" was not.)

As I settled back into my hometown, I felt weirdly banished from New York. Every near-indignity—moving into an apartment that wasn't two blocks from Central (or indeed any) Park, taking a job working with two-year-olds, crying on the bus—became bearable only with the internal assurance that soon I'd be finished with my book. Which, again, I was not working very hard on. "I'm not a preschool teacher,” I once told one of my co-workers. “I'm working on a book." I said this while standing in the middle of the preschool classroom in which I was paid to teach. It was a blind, essential denial. When your only lifeline is an imaginary book, envy of those who've somehow managed to produce the real thing runs deep.

Then four things happened: 1) A few years passed. 2) I figured out that it was no longer adorable to walk around hating everything in lieu of cultivating an actual personality. 3) Removed from New York, I stopped having the same conversation over and over again about who had a book deal and why they didn't deserve it, and in no longer doing that, figured out that the release of one book is typically not a direct threat to any book that might come after.

And 4) I actually read both of Crosley's essay collections I Was Told There'd Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number?—although I don't think I was particularly gracious about it at first. I was won over by the sharpness of her perception, the consistent humor of her wry asides, and the assuredness with which she told stories about how wonderful and weird and sad it is to be a human being.

I was just as charmed by The Clasp. I tore through it less to see what would happen next, and more to relish the next opportunity to underline an arch observation or clinching image. Her ability to capture the little mirages of the human experience makes the book endlessly compelling.

It's Kezia insisting that a wedding night hookup answer several riddles, which ends up becoming an odd sort of foreplay. It's Victor's balance of self-loathing and self-aggrandizement, as he spends the book ricocheting between the certainty that he can't do anything and the certainty that he's on the brink of completing the rough equivalent of an Arthurian quest. It's Nathaniel's quiet realization that "the danger of [Kezia] wanting nothing from him struck him harder than the danger of her wanting everything."

It's the observation that asking a single woman if she'd like to have children is like asking a one-armed man if he'd like to play tennis. That working at the world's seventh-largest search engine is the equivalent of working on the set of a Christopher Guest film. That the best cookies understand the need for church and state ingredient separation, and fuck any that incorporate spearmint. It's the understanding that the world is a balance of vaguely hilarious and, as the last line of the novel promises, sad, but not too sad. (There's a strong argument to be made for too sad, but I'll allow it.)

Such a blend of incisiveness and humor and sorrow is enviable. Crosley is enviable. But that's a reason to read her work, not to avoid it. Even if she accomplishes nothing else, she has now given us a novel about a treasure hunt in which everyone has too many feelings.

I guess she beat me to that, too.