Puzzling out The Clasp: Sloane Crosley’s Debut Novel

Sloane Crosley’s ’00 greatest talent is her unabashed realism. Her collection of essays, I Was Told There’d be Cake, is so successful because every other sentence feels like it was taken out of the back of your head. The Clasp is Crosley’s first novel, and she is, as always, brutally honest and undeniably hilarious.

A college campus is the only place on earth where her three narrators could have possibly come together, each one practically mirroring the other in some way. The book starts at a wedding of their old college friend from freshman year, describing their varied reactions to being forced to socialize with people they fell out of contact with five years ago. It was the kind of opening that made me look up at my roommate in alarm and think, “I could be her bridesmaid in the near future. She’s going to make me wear pastels and heels.”

Some characters were married to people they had met in college. Some were still close friends, some kept up a pretense of friendship with wedding invitations and some were the kinds of friends that all adults seem to have: the ones they never actually talk to but always stay over for a weekend on a biannual basis. It’s downright frightening reading this book in a room with friends I made two months ago, wondering if maybe the girl whose bed I’m sitting on will be sleeping on my couch eventually despite the fact that she hasn’t texted me since graduation. The Clasp paints a terrifying picture of adulthood, filled with unsatisfying jobs, loneliness and forced conversations with coworkers and old friends alike.

The plot surrounds a long-lost French necklace that makes an appearance in the short story “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, sending the characters on a wild goose chase across the French countryside chasing after a myth – and each other. The necklace however, is more of an excuse, a backdrop to the drama of a reignited love triangle between the three narrators; Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor.

Victor, forever lost within himself, loses himself to the idea of the necklace, finding purpose in the finding of it. Nathaniel, who has always been too sure of himself, tries to lose himself in Paris when he gets roped into a rescue mission – chasing down Victor.

Kezia is the perpetual babysitter of the story, taking care of her boss, her boss’s business, trying to keep up with Nathaniel’s disillusioned Hollywood life and trying to keep Victor’s head above water as best she can through a long-distance relationship.

The nostalgia for the kind for the people they used to be, for the kinds of people they used to want to be, swallows the rest of the story. It’s slow-paced and stuck — half of the book is flashbacks to college parties, college problems, college relationships. Each narrator takes their turn being resigned, cynically reflective, witty, and painfully nostalgic, making the reader equal parts amused, slightly bored, melancholy, and terrified of looming adulthood.

I spent a lot of this book wondering when the plot would pick up, wondering why I was reading so many details about the problems of Kezia’s workday that seemed to contribute nothing to the book’s plot or feelings of nostalgia and longing. I wondered if there were really people out there that lived like Victor, were as stuck as Victor, and then spent a considerable amount of time trying to think of how to avoid becoming Victor, and the same can be said of Nathaniel. What could be done to avoid being doomed to such a shallow existence? I asked the same question Nathaniel did — how could you escape it?

A lot of the book feels like a box filled with the pieces from five different puzzles and it wasn’t until the very end that they all get sorted out, if not quite put together. The story wasn’t always engaging, but it was interesting, confusing, and it felt important. Reading it was like sticking with a show that loses itself mid-series, just because you’re emotionally invested enough to keep watching. You have to see how the pieces come together. You have to see if, even after all that time, it’s still possible for the pieces to fit together like they once did.

The Clasp is the kind of book that makes you ache hoping for a happy ending, and continues to make you ache when you realize that that’s just not the way it works. Reading was slow, but the very last chapter pulled it together. I got it, but not until after it was all over, everything is perfectly clear in retrospect — an idea I’m sure both Crosley and the narrators would agree with. The Clasp, after all, is nothing more or less than the story of three people chasing down something that’s never too late to find. •