Sloane Crosley talks about his new New York novel “Cult Classic”
New York is not dead, but it is a ghost town. The city is steeped in history, and if you’ve lived here long enough, it’s probably rare that you walk a few blocks and don’t think about the banks that were once cool bars and the buildings you go to. visit your ex. corner – well, you got it. It’s a city of endless possibilities and stacked memories, a place where at any moment you can be hit by a powerful reminiscence and just as likely stumble upon someone completely random and out of context.
This is the premise of author Sloane Crosley’s latest novel, Cult classic, in which 37-year-old protagonist Lola meets her ex while shopping for cigarettes in Chinatown. Cringe. It’s getting worse. She continues to run into boyfriends from her past, turning Manhattan into a collective of ghosts that broke her heart. Scary. It’s a deeply New York novel, written by a writer known for her essays on life in New York. Time Out caught up with Crosley to share his love (and sometimes disdain) for New York City.
It’s such a New York romance! What is your approach to writing about the city?
Often, New Yorkers will think things are only in New York, when people, in fact, meet their exes in Minneapolis… A lot of this book is about run-ins. New York draws all types of characters. And to take its magic turn, it must be reinforced with realism. Is it possible that everyone you’ve dated is visiting New York? Yes. What other city is like this? The most realistic part of this book is that it’s set in New York…the city silently becomes the backdrop, another character. I was not aware of Cult classic being a NYC novel, but that’s what readers told me on tour, what they liked about it. If they’ve lived here, they feel seen, and if they haven’t, they’re nostalgic for it because of the novel. Hope this part is a success. If it’s New York or nowhere, you don’t have to say.
Where do you like to write in New York?
We don’t go everywhere when we write. I go from the front of my apartment to the back of my apartment. I’m in the West Village, but the book is set all over town, mostly on the Lower East Side, plus a New York Athletic Club and a few downtown and downtown offices. I can’t do the coffee thing. I can’t write in public, I’m easily distracted, too out of body watching myself as a woman on a laptop in a cafe, and I can’t stand it.
Writing is such a lonely experience, especially if you’re writing something like a novel. Cult classic at the end of the day, it’s a night novel. Very few scenes take place during the day – even Lola’s memories are in parties, rooftops, restaurants, on the subway. It’s very dark, even if it’s a comedy.
When I was working on it, I made sure that I didn’t just stare at my computer in my apartment kitchen to write and instead hang out with friends. I think if something is supposed to be fun, you can lose your pulse if you just can’t talk to anyone when you’re on schedule. But the thing I was on Deadline for involves so many character and relationship banter – you gotta go get some [experiences].
Since you write at home, where do you like to escape?
Bar Go. I love this place. It feels like one of those places where there are always seats as if by magic. It has a good crowd and in today’s parlance the vibes are on point. I also like Time, a new sushi place. When I was there I had way too many martinis and the food was delicious. I also really like Altro Paradiso, Soda Club for amazing vegan Italian food and Lafayette for breakfast. I like it there. And yes, I had the croissant. There’s something about a carnivorous breakfast that reminds me of the kind of prep school I’ve never been to, like Choate’s cafeteria. I don’t know, but I find it very decadent. When I leave my neighborhood, the West Village, I like Cafe Select and Oxalis.
What made you choose the LES as your main frame?
Most of the action takes place within a five-block radius of an abandoned synagogue, based around Forsyth Street. There are actually a few old shuls on the Lower East Side. It’s an amazing area to walk around. I love going to Clandestino and Russ & Daughters. I know the area very well and being very familiar with something is so important for satire. The opening scene of Cult classic takes place at a [fictional] fusion restaurant on Broadway. The menu doesn’t care, with dishes like General Tso’s soufflé, and very special tailor-made cocktails.
“If it’s New York or nowhere, you don’t have to say.”
What are you working on now?
I have a memoir coming out on grief that is hopefully a little funny. I lived in New York for 23 years and lived through the mishigas of the pandemic. I thought to cheer myself up, so I doubled down and wrote about a very depressing topic.
What kept you in New York for over 20 years?
There is a mixture of opposing forces of hunger and laziness. You feel like it’s the center of so many possibilities, it’s your home and where your life is, it’s always inspiring. You can get tired of New York, it’s quite easy to no longer be charmed by certain aspects, but it’s different from no longer being stimulated. I have never been under-stimulated by New York. I write about it in non-fiction and fiction, and the satirical observations really land. You have to like something and know it really, really well to make fun of it in print. Same with the exes.
To learn more about Sloane’s writing and to read his collection of New York essays, visit his website, sloanecrosley.com