The Clasp by Sloane Crosley (2015)

This book appeared on several must read lists and has some pretty big-name plugs on the book jacket, so I expected greater things from it than were delivered. Not that the book was terrible, but rather it was not wonderful.

The story follows Kezia, Victor, and Nat, three almost-thirty-somethings who met in college. All three are now living lives much less successful and satisfying than they had hoped. Their discontent is emblematic of the generations of kids raised in the “you are the best, you deserve it all” messages of the 1990’s. They feel betrayed by those promises; their lives lack glamour and financial largess they assumed was theirs for the taking. Hip without wanting to seem desperate and self-indulgent in the way of millennials, the characters pepper their exchanges with obscure references and of-the-moment slang. The relationship between Kezia, Victor, and Nat is examined mostly through their conversations, the author using dialogue to tell the story of who they were and who they have become. While the dialogue is clearly well thought out and carefully executed, the author paints a picture of three slightly unlikable, self-centered characters who fail to charm readers. As promised by the book reviews, her dialogue is full of funny comments and commentary, but often it edges too close to rude or uncomfortable to be outright hysterical.

From the beginning, I found the atemporal storytelling employed by Crosley disconcerting. The author moves back and forth from past (college) to present but also moves around the current action out of order, lending nothing to the story except confusion. It might have been simpler to tell the story in blocks of flashbacks while the present-day story moved forward in a more traditionally linear pattern. This time-shifting does become more coherent by the book’s midpoint; almost as if the author realizes that it is not improving the story and abandons the technique.

The true deficit of the book, however, is that the characters are so present and receive so much of the author’s attention that the plot is largely obscured. In the midst of so many clever conversations, the plot is painfully slow to develop and we do not feel that we have even entered the current-day action until the book is two-thirds over. Finally the true heart of the story is revealed, Victor plans to search for a valuable but missing gemstone necklace despite the implausibility that he will find it, and the other two are pulled into the disorganized search for it. Once it finally begins, readers find the story does have teeth and could have really been cleverly executed if the plot wasn’t such a secondary concern to the character development.

Nonetheless, the action evens out, and the characters’ search (while not nearly as wild and madcap as promised on the book jacket) does bring them answers, if not exactly to the questions they had hoped, and they all return from the trip with some small sense of how to move their lives forward. A 2015 version of a happy ending…a vague, quasi-happy ending.


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