Sloane Crosley on ‘Cult Classic,’ Love, and New York

“That’s totally the guy!” Sloane Crosley yelps, coming to an abrupt halt. The gray-haired male exits a brick-adorned graffiti building, she gestures.

For the past 20 minutes, we’ve been booking it through Manhattan’s Chinatown, past bustling produce stands and purse vendors, to find this former synagogue tucked away on a quiet stretch of Rivington Street—a source of inspiration for the author as she wrote her novel, Cult Classic coming June 7. On our way here, Crosley, who speaks like she walks, a mile a minute, explained that it wasn’t just the old temple that captured her attention, but also its culturally rich, if rapidly gentrifying, neighborhood. “There’s something hidden about it,” she says. “There’s still so many lives and cultures going on on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown at once, it seems like fertile ground for a secret.”

In everything there are secrets Cult Classic which centers on the surreal yet relatable adventures of Lola, a 37-year-old woman whose private apprehension about spending the rest of her life with her fiancé escalates as she finds herself running into a string of her ex-boyfriends, all in the same five-block radius downtown. Someone, it seems, is invested in Lola’s love life—and they’re using mysterious methods to force a reckoning.

For Crosley, as for Lola, there are no coincidences—and this man, now standing outside the old synagogue, is the proof. Maybe there’s still magic left in the swiftly changing streets of lower Manhattan. Our three missteps were part of a bigger plan. It had nothing to do our bad direction skills and our refusal to use Google Maps. It’s all led us to this moment, an opportunity to meet the owner of the building, whom Crosley emailed while she was writing to ask if she could see its interior, a request he politely but firmly denied. Within seconds, we’re bounding over a pile of garbage bags to the other side of the street, where Crosley introduces herself to the man, charming him enough that he not only agrees to read her novel, but also hints that if he likes it, she might finally get that tour.

The digital age has brought us the ability toThe past can always be found by a Google search. New York is known for its ex-partners, and it’s not uncommon to find them around the corner. Lola, an ex-love interest with a dark streak, uses her past to find comfort, pleasure and sometimes a thrill.

Crosley, a 22-year resident of New York City, is not unfamiliar with her past. When we stop for lunch at Lucien, a longtime haunt of downtown denizens, we’re seated at a table where a photo of an ex-flame of hers with the writer Fran Lebowitz smiles down on our tartare. An attraction to nostalgia runs through Crosley’s body of work. She became famous as an author almost ten years after working as a publicist for books. This was thanks to her humorous essays written in the first person. I Was Told There’d Be Cake, mined her coming-of-age and misadventures in NYC.

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But for all of Crosley’s writing about her experiences, she prefers to keep her romantic life private. While she does talk about past dates and boyfriends, Crosley only mentions her current partner in passing. This is how she got started with the website. Cult ClassicHer second novel, her 2015 novel, is her second fiction work. Clasp she saw an opportunity to freely tackle a subject she’d been avoiding for years. “I was sort of overdue to use a wealth of experience in this way,” she says, then deadpans, “I just didn’t want to use it for non-fiction, because I’m not a snitch.”

However Cult ClassicIt is a meditation upon love. However, through fantasy and comedy, it gives a nonprecious, refreshingly real perspective on modern romance. Lola, like many other women, is unhappy with men and their institutions. This cynicism seeps into her relationships. Elsewhere, characters are more fearful of settling than they are of being alone; one pessimistically defines marriage as “agreeing to live in someone else’s narrative,” while another quips that romance “may be the world’s oldest cult.”

The novel is far less concerned with Lola’s happy ending than it is with her coming to terms with her hang-ups about love, commitment, and vulnerability. As a heroine, Lola is both fearless and fearful; armed with a sharp wit, she’s more than a little bit skeptical, very opinionated, and slightly messy. Crosley felt it was crucial that Lola be able to admit her imperfections and learn from the past. “I don’t think I have the capacity to write a straight romance novel,” she says. “I’m probably not a romantic at my core, but it’s worse than that: I’m a writer.”

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