Part comedy of manners, part treasure hunt, the first novel from the writer whom David Sedaris calls "perfectly, relentlessly funny"
Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor are reunited for the extravagant wedding of a college friend. Now at the tail end of their twenties, they arrive completely absorbed in their own lives—Kezia the second-in-command to a madwoman jewelry designer in Manhattan; Nathaniel the former literary cool kid, selling his wares in Hollywood; and the Eeyore-esque Victor, just fired from a middling search engine. They soon slip back into old roles: Victor loves Kezia. Kezia loves Nathaniel. Nathaniel loves Nathaniel.
In the midst of all this semi-merriment, Victor passes out in the mother of the groom's bedroom. He wakes to her jovially slapping him across the face. Instead of a scolding, she offers Victor a story she's never even told her son, about a valuable necklace that disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France.
And so a madcap adventure is set into motion, one that leads Victor, Kezia, and Nathaniel from Miami to New York and L.A. to Paris and across France, until they converge at the estate of Guy de Maupassant, author of the classic short story "The Necklace."
Heartfelt, suspenseful, and told with Sloane Crosley's inimitable spark and wit, The Clasp is a story of friends struggling to fit together now that their lives haven't gone as planned, of how to separate the real from the fake. Such a task might be possible when it comes to precious stones, but is far more difficult to pull off with humans.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
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By Sloane Crosley
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Sloane Crosley
All rights reserved.
"Oh God," Nancy the Temp blubbered as soon as she heard the bad news, "I'm so sorry this is happening, Victor. What is wrong with people?"
She hugged him tightly. Victor remained still. Nancy was as round as Victor was tall. It was like a koala climbing a bamboo tree. Her hair was short and gray like a koala's, too, and Victor had a full view of the swirl of her head. The two of them could tie for Most Out of Place at the offices of mostofit.com, though Nancy would win on a technicality: She would still be coming into the office after today and Victor would not.
"Seriously." She pressed her face against his chest. "What is wrong with our society? These young people!"
Nancy held the paper announcing Victor's departure in her hand, crushing it so that his last name, Wexler, melded with his first into VictorWe. Alas, he did not feel particularly victorweous today. He also did not feel like being ousted from the "young people" category by a woman in her late forties. Victor was in the odd position of working in an industry that made him feel older than he was, while living in a city that made him feel younger than he was. Used to work, rather.
Mostofit, the Internet's seventh-largest search engine, had made a cultural impact when it was founded. The senior investors had insisted on a bloated marketing budget that, for reasons Victor didn't understand, could not be reallocated toward the operations of the site itself. In addition, the funds had a use-it-or-lose-it condition, which meant the company was in a hurry to spend money on the wrong things. There were major ad buys, Taxi TV, sponsored content, billboards, bumper stickers, bellybands, sidebars. Everyone knew the site ... no one used it.
Even Victor knew this wasn't his fault. Long before the consensus had been reached that he was the company's most expendable employee (he started out as a low-level data scientist and ended up as a mid-level data scientist), there were rumblings about disappointing "impressions" and "uniques" that sounded a lot like how Victor described first dates. Except they were pertaining to the .07 percent of all U.S. searches that the company could claim as their own. This meant that if all the mostofit users in America descended upon the office, it would be crowded — but no one would suffocate. The company's biggest coup was a sketch on Saturday Night Live in which the mostofit staff were portrayed as a bunch of grandmas, thumbing through encyclopedias each time a tech-savvy teenager (played by Justin Timberlake) searched for porn.
Victor had already begun stockpiling free candy and bottled water. What he could not have predicted was an internal press release, an actual piece of paper, announcing his departure as if it were good news.
Even for a bunch of socially autistic geniuses, this was a feat of offensiveness.
"I don't think this is a society thing or a people thing," Victor explained to Nancy. "I think it's a company thing."
She stopped nuzzling long enough to look up. "Well, what do you think a company is made up of?"
"This company?" Victor looked at the charts tacked to his wall, graphics and maps he never quite knew how to read. "I'm not sure."
Victor's sole gift had been cataloging mundane digital data, wrangling raw information and putting it into algorithm-friendly piles. He was really good at it. He was good at creating lists of every country with a history of malaria outbreaks, at tracking how often people searched for fetish porn, at restricting the range of a data set so that the mostofit search field appeared psychic. He was a finder of information that was never structured to be found. Even growing up in a pre-Internet world, he excelled at this kind of thing. His bibliographies were more extensive than his actual papers. Some people skipped to the end of a book; Victor skipped to the index. After college, he briefly enrolled in the masters program in library science at Pratt before deciding that his bank account would be better served by a move to the technology sphere. Alas, data collection was where his skill set ended and the rest of the Internet began.
"It's a conspiracy. This place is going to hell in a handbasket."
His desk phone rang. It sounded like a doctor's office phone — that erroneously chipper briiiing, that red light bright enough to imply urgency, small enough to be ignored. It rang about once a year, usually a wrong number. It was probably human resources, gunning for an exit interview. Something in the somberness of Nancy's gaze told him she would slash his tires if he moved. Victor didn't have a car. She would slash his MetroCard.
"Well, I'll miss you." She unlocked her vise grip.
He didn't like the implication of "at least" in there.
"See you in there," Nancy said, hitting her emotional wall and thumping away. "IN. A. HANDBASKET."
"There" was the mostofit conference room.
Because a press release wasn't quite bad enough, in the wake of his dismissal, there was an unprecedented conference room toast. This was one ceremonious firing. The conference room table was piled high with pity fruit and pity champagne and pity Perrier. Victor chomped on a dry brownie and washed it down with champagne. Then he put some melon in a napkin, went back to his desk, and forced himself to read the entire release.
It used the same font and generic template as good news, complete with the "for immediate release," a phrase that applied to both the information in general and to Victor in specific. It spoke about "isolated restructuring of the brand moving forward" and lamented the redundancy of "a steadfast data scientist who ultimately did not improve the disambiguity and relevance of results" and, finally, hoped everyone would "wish Victor Wexler the best as he applies his skills in future endeavors, be they in the start-up realm or another platform elsewhere."
Elsewhere? Where elsewhere? This was the only place he had ever worked. He had no other skills. He barely had these skills.
What happened was this: Victor had been skating along for a few years, nodding at meetings and avoiding his managers. And he would have kept skating if he hadn't drawn attention to himself as a total fucking imbecile. But he knew that if he was ever going to get ahead, he was going to have to do more than compile data. So he crafted a brand-new idea: A feature that would aggregate a maximum of ten results for any search. If none of the links met the right criteria, a user scrolled down, where he or she was met with options:
Try a Different Search (which linked back to the search field)
Go to a Library (which found the closest public library)
Stop Stalking Him/Her (which led to a sponsored dating site)
Victor pitched it as a search engine within a search engine, a small-batched algorithm with attitude. His pitch was good, full of acronyms of which he had only the loosest grasp but which he managed to imbue with authority for an uninterrupted five minutes.
"So it would replace what we have now?" said one of his managers, elbows leaning on the same conference table that would soon be covered in pity fruit.
"What?" Victor was caught off guard. "I didn't say that."
"Then what would be the point?"
Victor continued to talk, the wind knocked out of his sails but still bobbing along. Then everyone started asking him questions, probing about link metrics and sponsorship conflicts. Bright lines floated in Victor's vision, smaller versions of the fluorescent bulbs above. Someone said something about the idea not being "sticky."
"Victor? Did you hear what I said?" asked a loathsome kiss-ass named Chad Chapman, who knew grave concern for the weak would make him appear compassionate. "I asked how a platform such as the one you're proposing would mesh with the company's plans for an overhauled interface."
Victor had his finger in the dam of ignorance for so long, his muscles gave out and he forgot to remember not to ask things like:
Now Chad didn't even have to pretend to look concerned. The question revealed a year's worth of professional coma. Victor had not been reading the e-mails. He didn't know how to read most of the e-mails. There were internal databases he hadn't logged in to in so long, he'd forgotten the password. But there was no way to get the password. It would be like casually asking how to flush the toilet after six years.
"You mean the redesign?"
"Yes," one of the voices said.
"And what did I say?"
"You said relaunch."
Had someone cut the central air?
"Victor, how would your plans work within the site going forward?"
This voice was identifiable by rank. It belonged to Mark Epstein, the Clark Kent–ish chief operating officer and annoyingly good guy. Mark spent the equivalent of a first-year tech's salary remodeling the kitchen in his country house, but still — good. Which is why it stung to have him put the cap on his pen and say: "It's an idea."
Was there a worse compliment than the one with no adjective? You have a face. It's a sweater. He does a job.
Chad smirked. Victor nervous-burped and threw up in his mouth a little. Actually, more than a little. He could smell it. He could see everyone else smell it as he exhaled the fumes. Even Mark Epstein, frequent business school guest speaker and acceptor of minor humanitarian awards, looked grossed out.
"Excuse me," Victor whispered, carefully parting his lips.
Mark coughed. "Maybe we should have a breakout about this postconference."
"Great idea, Mark," said Chad.
Victor swallowed as quietly as he could.
And that was that.
He snuck out the afternoon of his toast and never went back. Technically, he was supposed to turn in his ID card. There was a twenty-dollar replacement fee for lost cards. He'd like to see them come after him for it. He went home and stuck the press release on his refrigerator, right next to the invitation to Caroline Markson's wedding, a month away. It took three magnets to make the invite stay up. The press release took one.
* * *
He knew that this was the start of a new life. As homely as the old one was, this was going to be straight-up ugly. The whole company was in trouble (when your aim as a corporation is to unseat the sixth-largest version of your corporation, you're legally working on the set of a Christopher Guest film). But being the first to be let go was humiliating. Without the alignment of lunch and commuting schedules, Victor quickly lost touch with the handful of coworkers he liked. He would do nothing all day but plan on doing other things. He trolled employment websites, took naps, and drank early. Some days he knew it was raining only because his mail was wet. He ate foods that could survive nuclear attacks. Hello, frozen burrito, old friend. How I've missed ignoring your suggestion that I cook you on high for three minutes, flip you over, and cook you on high for three minutes again.
When the occasional probing ex-coworker e-mail floated into his inbox, like a dandelion seed, he would answer it with an upbeat "All good in my world. Hope the office is treating you well!" and ignore whatever response he got. He had so little to discuss with these people when not trying to shove algorithms down their throats.
After the alienation of his coworkers came the alienation of his friends. He hadn't told anyone that he'd been fired. It was the one piece of control he had, the one weight-bearing pole in his life. He was easily dissuaded from plans. He would force himself to write a few "you out tonight?" texts and if he didn't hear back before 10 p.m., that was that. He was in for the night. And yet, as much as he hated leaving the house, he also refused to have people over. Here was Victor's suddenly sacred space where so many hours were spent alone, plowing through toilet paper because his prime toilet hours were on his own dime now.
After his friends came his family. He e-mailed them just often enough to present a heartbeat. His parents asked him insidious questions like "How's work, kiddo?" or "When are we seeing you next?" The sound of his mother dismissing her complaints about substitute teaching because her days "couldn't possibly be as stressful as yours, honey," killed him. The sound of his father saying he put a new mostofit.com bumper sticker on the car? That dug up his fresh grave and killed him again.
Finally came all of humanity. He was becoming an old man — oversensitive to street traffic, muttering snide comments to people who were not self-aware enough for his liking. Office workers were champion public walkers, but the middle of the day was for brand consultants, tourists, and nannies. Though ... the Hassidim he liked. Be it out of religion or common sense, they moved quickly, never touched anyone, and made sure that no one ever touched them. When Victor did leave the house, he would watch Hassidic couples in their wigs and their hats and their sensible footwear and he would be jealous. Not only were they conscientious walkers, he bet they were never bored with their lives. There was always something they could glean from the Old Testament, some kind of meaning. They could be repressed homosexuals or misogynist assholes or run-of-the-mill nose-pickers, but at least they had a reason to wake up in the morning.CHAPTER 2
Paranoid about traffic as usual, she found herself at the airport gate at 7 a.m. with an hour to kill. She took little adventures away from the waiting area: bathroom run, magazine purchase, futile inquiries about a business-class upgrade she couldn't afford. Victor was on a later flight but she wondered if she might run into Olivia Arellano or Sam Stein. She wasn't close enough with either of them anymore to know. When she texted Olivia, a stranger replied with a "wrong # sorry." Kezia wasn't much tighter with the bride. She and Caroline hovered in distant-friend brackets, conscious of their past (they were freshman-year roommates) but strangers in the present. And whose fault was that? Kezia's, probably. She had shed college like a snake.
Once in Miami, she followed her driver as he pushed an empty cart toward the parking garage, using a folded paper sign like an oven mitt. The sign was impressively misspelled. MOYTRIN instead of MORTON. He pushed the hooded crosswalk button. It was hard to believe these buttons were affiliated with actual change.
"Are you sure you don't want me to get that?" Her driver gestured at her bag.
The bag dug into her shoulder but she knew she would expend more energy removing it than holding on to it for another minute. She also clutched a garment bag with multiple dress options hooked to the plastic hanger inside.
"I'm fine, thank you."
Her company's car service was so abused by her boss, every Rachel Simone employee fudged this little luxury. The same obliviousness that caused Rachel to look quizzically at completed tasks, as if she herself had not assigned them, caused her to gloss over charges from cities she hadn't been to.
"What brings you to Miami?" The driver tossed her luggage into the trunk.
She hated being asked about her plans by strangers. The worst were hairstylists who yammered as they yanked at her curls, asking her about her "big plans" for the evening. Who had taught them to do this? Usually she was getting her hair done for a first date and the question embarrassed her. Sometimes she tried to teach them a lesson by replying with: "Funeral."
"What's your name, Key-zee-ah?"
"It's Kezia, with a soft 'e' like a fez, not a key."
"Yeah, but what is it?"
"Oh," she sighed. "It's from the Bible. After God takes everything away from Job, he gets his family back and one of the new daughters is called Kezia."
The driver nodded solemnly. She knew what he was thinking. But she didn't hail from religious stock. Her parents just liked the name. The closest she had come to hearing the Bible mentioned in their house was when another object was like a Bible. A phone book or a diner menu.
"You eat pork?" he asked, once they were ensconced in air-conditioning.
She may have been the least Jewish-looking person streaming out of the terminal. As a human demographic, she looked like she had just come from a Celtic sprite convention. But there was something about her appearance — wan, maybe, a curly blond Wednesday Addams — people were always offering her gluten-free vegetarian options when she didn't ask for them.
"I know a place that has the best Cuban sandwiches in Miami. The best. And reasonable prices, too. If you like good food, you can go."
No, I hate good food.
Her driver presented a ticket to a woman at the garage gate. They shared a joke and she waved them through.
"You wanna write this down?"
"I would," said Kezia, "but my phone's broken."
She pushed the pimple on her chin, the one with its own area code, causing a painful throbbing. She could see it in the reflection of the window. It changed her profile, that's how big it was.
"You like live music?"
Also something I hate.
"I'm here for a wedding."
"Oh, no." He shook his head. "You have to stay longer than that."
Excerpted from The Clasp by Sloane Crosley. Copyright © 2015 Sloane Crosley. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction to "The Necklace",
"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant,
A Note About the Author,
Also by Sloane Crosley,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've been reading Sloane for a few years. I loved her essay collections so I was really looking forward to her first novel and it didn't disappoint. The book is a fun read about a group of college friends who find themselves reunited at a wedding. The story develops from each of their perspectives, ultimately setting them out on a journey to find themselves anew.
Stunning and hilarious. I finished it in three days and loved every word and turn of phrase. So touching between the funny lines as well.
Liked that it incorporated a short story everybody read in high school, but all the characters were brats.