Sloane Crosley’s novel “The Clasp” follows three young people, two male, one female, as they move from college to adulthood, still searching for purpose and intent. Crosley appears Wednesday, Nov. 4, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.
by Sloane Crosley
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 384 pp., $26
Guy de Maupassant’s classic short story “The Necklace” leaves its mark on Sloane Crosley’s “The Clasp” like a too-tight bracelet; the 140-year-old French tale inspires, haunts and teases Crosley’s debut novel. In the story, an unhappy woman is left destitute after she and her husband struggle for years to pay back a friend for a lost necklace — only to find, far too late, that the bauble was fake.
A scene in “The Clasp,” in which a college class encounters “The Necklace,” shows how de Maupassant’s story can act as a mirror, reflecting back whatever one wants to find.
Nathaniel (a self-absorbed student) reflects on how the real tragedy is the husband, “whose life was ruined because he wanted to make someone else happy.” Other student interpretations: “Irony. Society. Class. France.” The middle-aged professor dramatically insists that it’s about the plight of aging. “It’s unbearably sad,” she intones, her voice cracking.
Crosley, known for two wisecracking New Yorker essay collections (“I Was Told There’d Be Cake,” and “How Did You Get This Number”), here crafts a light but engrossing tale, never unbearably sad, often surprisingly poignant. At its center are three former college friends, all dancing dangerously close to their 30th birthdays.
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Nathaniel is a not-quite-successful TV writer in Hollywood, whose most prominent credit is on a show called “Dude Move.” Kezia, a Manhattanite, works for a terrifyingly mercurial jewelry designer, whose typical product might include “lace-covered resin and petrified rat teeth.” And Victor has just been fired from the Internet’s seventh-largest search engine.
The trio, a former love triangle (Victor loved Kezia, Kezia loved Nathaniel, Nathaniel loved … well, no one really), reunite for a wedding, at which time the depressed Victor is tossed, unwittingly, a mystery: a drawing of a necklace, whose disappearance dates back to World War II France.
Needing something to do, Victor makes his way overseas, to (ah, oui!) the former home of de Maupassant himself, where he hopes to find some answers — about the necklace, and about his own life.
Crosley’s sardonic wit makes the book a sly page-turner; like listening to a story told by a friend with a knack for making everything just a little funnier than it really is. And Victor emerges as a memorable sad-sack (he looks, notes one character, like “a busted Adrian Brody”), contemplating the emptiness of his life after his apartment is robbed.
He owns nothing, he reflects: “What pieces of the world were his?” It’s why the necklace engages him, jolts him into activity — “part of the necklace’s worth was that it was impossible to get.” Or was it?
“The Clasp” ends with a hard-to-pull-off coincidence, but a satisfying one; along the way, the reader’s reminded of how college friends can push time backward, bringing with them a whiff of days long gone.
And its treasure-hunt elements are irresistible. The necklace, ponders Victor, is one of those things “whose fate was to bide their time and hope … like the infirm elderly who have slipped in their own homes and now must wait in the dark for someone to come find them.”