Review: I Was Told There'd Be Cake

By Francesca Segal, August 15, 2008

By Sloane Crosley
Portobello, £7.99


Sloane Crosley would make a brilliant best friend. And reading her book of essays, I was Told There'd Be Cake, is very much like sitting down with her for a gossip, listening to a very funny girl tell very funny stories.

Crosley is a New Yorker in her late 20s - clever, Jewish, single, with a keen eye and a mordant wit. All the essays in the book will bring a smile, but it is late in the collection that her intelligence and powers of observation come into their own.

Crosley is not just witty, but honest and very sharp. What signifies success for a modern, comic essay is when the reader giggles while cringing in recognition at an instantly identifiable and yet never before realised or consciously acknowledged person, foible or circumstance. And on this score, for this reader, Crosley is undeniably successful.

Events in everyday life that are beneath notice to most of us come readily to her attention. She has a particularly well developed ear for the ridiculous. It would be pushing it to call her writing social commentary; she is not exactly documenting seismic cultural shifts. But she is certainly able to step back far enough to extract meaning from her own, frequent mishaps.

One essay describes her experience as a bridesmaid for a girl she hasn't spoken to since high school. In another, she confesses to having a shoebox of pony-related items, given to her by a series of boyfriends who responded to her own, irrepressible urge to declare a love of ponies in order to appear quirky.

She bakes a giant cookie in the shape of her boss's head in an attempt to curry favour, and elsewhere reveals her passion for a Mackintosh computer game in her childhood and the way in which it restored a sense of control to her frustrating schooldays.

She draws a lesson from every piece, and always with great humour.

One of the early essays lovingly recounts her years as the only Jewish girl at a Christian summer-camp, chosen accidentally by her parents who had no idea that the crowning glory of their daughter's summer would be the July Nativity Play (shortly after Halloween in June). And, after the original (Aryan), candidate is sent away from camp after breaking a toe, Crosley is honoured with the role of Mary. This is a source of amusement for her irreverently secular parents until Crosley arrives home and lovingly unpacks her lace-trimmed holy virgin's costume. It was the first time, she reports, that she heard her mother swear.

"We would still be bad Jews," she writes. "We could still have a Christmas tree with favourite ornaments. We would still feast like Catholics on the Christmas Yule log with plastic reindeer prancing through icing.
"We would have the biggest tree on the block, and bagels and lox the next day, and light Chanucah candles as carefully as surgeons to the tune of a prayer we barely knew. But this costume was not us."

Francesca Segal is features associate at Tatler and writes the debut fiction column in the Observer

Last updated: 3:17pm, February 18 2011