Title: I Was Told There’d Be Cake
Author: Sloane Crosley
Release date: April 1, 2008
Genre: Nonfiction: essays
Source: Personal collection (memoir class)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Sloane Crosley didn’t grow up in a broken home, or a broken neighborhood. She wasn’t abused and didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs. She has two loving parents and one fun sister, and very few truly bad things seemed to have happened to her.
As a memoirist, she might have mourned her bad luck. Instead she turned lemonade into a gin shandy.
Crosley’s collection of essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, finds meaning and hilarity in the mundane. From recovering after painful breakups to memories of summer camp to being locked out of her apartment, Crosley brings wisdom and snark to what seems like a very average life.
In fact, her average life allows the reader easily to imagine herself in those situations—and to think of them with good humor and perhaps a new perspective. Everything about her seems relateable, and she has a consistent (and consistently uproarious) point of view. And this isn’t just her childhood diary splashed down on the page; she thinks carefully about scenes and experiences common to most people that will illustrate her points.
Crosley’s voice is strong, and it really carries the book, uniting an otherwise disparate collection. She uses humor at every turn to engage her audience—like when she discusses changing her name: “It’s like imagining myself with a penis. Sure, I’ve seen them used but I’m not quite sure what I would do with one.” Or, in an unrelated piece:
Unfortunately, after a certain age, it becomes difficult to share any news with your parents that begins with ‘I have something to tell you’ without sensing the hopeful expectation behind their voices: they want me to be a lesbian. That would explain so much for them…
The author is at her best when she lets her imagination run loose, as when she describes alternate histories for herself or her characters—as when she imagines what life would be like being from Europe or somewhere other than the suburbs:
These are places in which people are casually trilingual and everyone knows how to make good coffee and gourmet dinners at home without having to shop for specific ingredients. Everyone has hip European sneakers that effortlessly look like the exact pair you’ve been searching for your whole life. Everything is sweetened with honey and even the generic-brand Q-tips are aesthetically packaged. People die from old age or crimes of passion or because they fall off glaciers.
Or when her bridezilla friend announces she won’t keep her last name–and neither will her new husband:
I had a vision of Boris and Francine with no last names, falling off the grid somewhere in Idaho, living off the fat of the land, forgoing utensils and property tax and having a dog named Bark and a kid named Slipper Bubble.
When she comes back to reality, the truth is even more hilarious and unexpected: In the case of the last example, they’re both changing their last name to Universe.
Crosley is endlessly imaginative and a master of characterization. Yet she is disciplined, reining in her wild ideas before they trample over the narrative.
I like how she adds philosophical meaning to every story—themes that extend beyond the anecdotes she relates. Despite her snark, she’s wise and insightful, like when she wonders, “What am I asking when I ask for a [plastic] pony but to be taken for more unique than I probably am?”
It drives home the point that the quality of writing is what matters, not necessarily the experiences themselves. Sure, it’s great if you have a marvelous/crazy scene from your childhood, but Crosley teaches that you can find good material in anything if you think about it long enough.
Of course, the book may not be for everyone. I can identify with Crosley’s experiences, as an unmarried, college-educated, white, twenty-something woman myself–but I could see how being outside the target audience could be alienating. However, I enjoyed the book, and recommend it if you’re in the mood for something light and fun.
Quote of note: “I think husbands are like tattoos–you should wait until you come across something you want on your body for the rest of your life…”