Sloane Crosley earned accolades and envy with the publication of her first essay collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, two years ago. Her follow-up, How Did You Get This Number, finds her hiding in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant and arguing with cabdrivers, but her bemusement survives these pedestrian moments for another biting outing.
Crosley’s reserved style, a portrait of the artist on the fringes of the joke, doesn’t permit her to let down her guard fully, but here, she skews more personal than in Cake. “An Abbreviated Catalog Of Tongues” runs down a litany of deceased childhood pets, which mostly perished in bizarre accidents, like the stingray Crosley accidentally fed her sister’s gold necklace. “Off The Back Of A Truck” juxtaposes the flameout of a relationship, in which Crosley discovers her boyfriend is still dating his ex, with the acquaintance of a furniture-store employee who arranges deals on “floor models” for her. “Lost In Space” offers insight into how a budding wit earns her stripes, as a spatial disorder forces Crosley to stall through tasks like reading analog clocks.
If How Did You Get This Number has a theme besides the bafflement of the outside observer, it’s the female friendship, and Crosley’s eye for its currents and miniature adjustments over time is particularly fine in this collection: While she tries to bolt from her anorexic, kleptomaniac roommate in “Take A Stab At It,” there’s a tenderness to the way she describes adapting by hiding heirloom earrings in a jar of peanut butter. “Light Pollution”’s articulation of how work friends are made almost overshadows the story it sets up, about a wedding-party outing in Alaska culminating in the bear sighting Crosley and the other out-of-towners had joked about without expectation.
An intimate anthropologist, Crosley combs patiently through events, looking for finds. And even when some fail to yield results, her seams never show, as demonstrated by the discrepancy between the collection’s two travelogues. Crosley’s union of a musing on age and an impulsive trip to Portugal in the malformed opener “Show Me On The Doll” creates a too-predictable chunk of disappointment that never lodges in a satisfying register, but in “Le Paris!”, she shifts evenly between an earlier ejection from the Notre Dame cathedral and her not exactly triumphant return to the City Of Light. Able at last to settle into polite distaste for the city where her oft-compared influence David Sedaris once tried to talk pretty one day, Crosley returns wiser and without losing her sharpness.