Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Nonfiction Review: Look Alive Out There: Essays

Ever since the 2008 release of her best-selling collection of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, I've been wanting to read some of Sloane Crosley's work. I'd heard rave reviews online, on podcasts, and from friends. So, I was excited to listen to her latest essay collection, Look Alive Out There, on audio last month, read by the author. I so enjoyed her warm, witty writing that covers everything from the trivial to the deeply moving.

Crosley's book includes 16 essays, some under two pages long and some continuing for more than 20 pages. Each one is an acute observation of an ordinary moment (or more) in time. Topics are far-ranging, from the time she attended the wrong shiva (and didn't admit it to the hosting family!) to her cameo on an episode of Gossip Girl that didn't quite meet her expectations. Some of her essays are about amusing or annoying brief episodes in her life, like Right Aid, about sharing a birthday with the clerk at her local drugstore or The Chupacabra about the surreal moment when she was receiving a massage and the masseuse's dog had a seizure in front of her. A few essays are truly jaw-dropping (though true) and based on articles she wrote for magazines, like Up the Down Volcano, about her misadventure trying to climb a 20,000-foot active volcano in Ecuador with no preparation or Relative Stranger, her interview with a second cousin who was a major porn star. And a couple of her essays really delve into deeply personal stories, like Cinema of the Confined, about developing a chronic illness (that one really spoke to me, and I plan to listen to it again) or dealing with fertility issues in The Doctor Is a Woman, though her ever-present sense of humor keeps even these from becoming too dark. Here's a brief excerpt of the first few sentences of her first essay, Wheels Up, to give you an idea of her unique style and tone:
"I am running late for the airport, trying to catch a cab on my street corner. A woman in a wheelchair and her date, a man, arrive at the corner seconds after me. They pretend not to see me, and I pretend not to see them, which is the kind of cutthroat strategy New Yorkers employ when embarking on otherwise benign activities. It's partially to avoid conflict and partially to claim innocence in the event of the finger."
Crosley has a talent for telling a story with warmth and wit and for zeroing in on details that we can all relate to, even if our experiences are vastly different than hers. Listening to her read these essays feels like sitting with a friend - a very funny friend - over coffee, while she regales you with her latest escapades. I enjoyed every single essay in the collection and listened to the entire book in just a few days, and she left me wanting more. Now that I've experienced Sloane Crosley's writing talents, I will definitely be looking for her other essay collections and her magazine articles, too.

256 pages, MCD
Macmillan Audio

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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Listen to a sample of the audio book from the essay Outside Voices, read by the author, or request the book from Audible.

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  1. I don't often read short stories, but these essays sound fun!

    1. I don't read a lot of essay collections, but I should! I love memoirs, and personal essays are similar.