The backlash against book-publicist-turned-essayist Sloane Crosley began with a November 2007 article in The New York Observer which depicted her as the prom queen of publishing, on the verge of becoming a bestselling author like her clients Toni Morrison and Jonathan Lethem. The headline proclaimed, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, "Now she's got her own book—and shiny hair that will make you weep!" Industry insiders, sensitive to the same currents that lead film critics to rant about the career trajectory of Jessica Alba, needed no further ammunition to dismiss her as an insider-darling representative of all that ails the publishing world.
Scorn goes a long way, but the charms of Crosley's essay collection I Was Told There'd Be Cake refuse to erode. Her day job might have scored her the Lethem book-cover blurb, but her collection treats the indignities of first jobs ("The Ursula Cookie") and bad neighbors ("The Good People Of This Dimension") with sneaky wit. "Bastard Out Of Westchester" explores her fascination with the bad Charlton Heston movie which prompted her parents to name her Sloane, while "Smell This" chronicles a dessert party forever marred by the discovery of poop on the bathroom floor, whose provenance she cannot leave alone: "Because you have a fundamental like for your other guests, because they are among your oldest friends, you entertain the possibility that a stray animal, such as a feral squirrel, has broken into your house, shat on your carpet, and left."
Mining indignities in the pursuit of non-fiction is nothing new, and I Was Told There'd Be Cake clearly bears the marks of its Sedarian influences. But Crosley's brush is one of polite bafflement, rather than barely concealed nastiness. Even when she's clearly angry at an out-of-town super or a neighbor turned one-night stand, Crosley's dry prose exhibits a droll resignation; well, of course a locksmith would have to be called twice in one day, it's just the natural order of things. Only the collection's one misfire, the bridesmaid chronicle "You On A Stick," pushes her natural skepticism over into meanness. Which suggests that the Observer's estimation of Crosley as "nice" wasn't too far off.