Sloane Crosley belongs to that elite group of literary-minded wits to whom the world is full of endlessly amusing, strange, bizarre, perplexing and downright hilarious experiences.
Sloane Crosley belongs to that elite group of literary-minded wits to whom the world is full of endlessly amusing, strange, bizarre, perplexing and downright hilarious experiences. Like David Sedaris (and countless others following a similar path), Crosley manages to make the mundane anything but, with little more than a turn of phrase or keen, comedic observation. Look Alive Out There, her latest collection of essays, is full of, if not laugh-out-loud moments, certainly a fair share of genuinely entertaining anecdotes, covering everything from apartment living to travelling with friends to guest-starring on “Gossip Girl” to a particularly funny piece on the interaction between strangers at a Rite Aid. This piece, while the shortest, manages to summarize Crosley’s aesthetic perfectly, quickly setting up the premise and delivering the devastating punchline in short order, all with impeccable comedic timing.
Hers is a style well-suited to this type of essay format; she’s smart and clever without being overly academic or pedantic, relatable in the best possible way with her economic use of language. Throughout these essays, it is her opening sentences that immediately draw the reader in; regardless of what comes after, you simply can’t help but keep reading an essay that begins, “The strongest impulse I’ve ever had to ride a baggage carousel was at the airport in Santa Rosa, California” (“If You Take Out the Canoe”) or “Apparently, Ecuador is graced with all four seasons in the course of a single day, and so I pack for none” (“Up the Down Volcano”).
This latter essay proves particularly harrowing as the ill-prepared Crosley foolishly attempts to summit a mountain not only without having packed the appropriate attire, but also failing to acclimate to the elevation and thus putting herself in serious risk. Still played for comedic effect, “Up the Down Volcano” shows what relentless curiosity and willful impulsivity can really do to the armchair adventurer when out in the real world. She knows she was foolish (in hindsight), she knows she could well have died (again, in hindsight), but neither stopped her pursuit of getting a great story out of it.
Not everything is as life-or-death or rendered on such a grand geographic scale. The majority of Crosley’s focus tends to be on her interactions with other people rather than other locales. Even “Up the Down Volcano” is ultimately a study in cross-cultural interpersonal relationships. In “Relative Stranger,” she recounts an “uncle” (who isn’t really an uncle) who was an incredibly prolific porn star (116 films between 1973 and 1987, by her count). It’s a premise that sounds too far-fetched to be real, but Crosley presents a humanistic portrait of someone who happened to find himself well-suited to an occupation the majority of us can barely fathom. His is a semi-secret/semi-famous life of which he is in no way ashamed, able, like a well-placed tattoo, to cover or reveal whatever he chooses in any given situation.
Look Alive Out There is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding library of humorous essays and the perfect escape from the daily horrors constantly being flung in our faces. Do yourself a favor: put down your phone and pick up Look Alive Out There instead. You’ll feel much better in the end.