How Did You Get This Number?, By Sloane Crosley

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The Independent Culture

There's a complex equation that can be used to describe essayist Sloane Crosley's work. Read a few reviews of her first book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, and the numbers start to add up. Take David Sedaris, divide by Dorothy Parker, times by Mary Tyler Moore and add Kingsley Amis.

If A is Carrie Bradshaw, what does this make Crosley? Talented, twisted and often the subject of literary comparisons. The writer herself, in a recent interview, name-checked Geoff Dyer as the essayist she would prefer to be likened to, although she's inevitably painted as a quirkier Bradshaw, who collects neuroses rather than Manolos and ponders the problems of hiding your jewellery from a kleptomaniac flatmate and whether earthquakes get jealous of each other, rather than dull dates and sexual incompatibility. Psychosis and the city, if you will.

How Did You Get This Number? sees Crosley, a suburban girl-turned-New Yorker, navigating through a handful of countries and a clutch of local scenes with her customary witty and weird style. The book opens with a story that sees an about-to-turn-30 Crosley getting a passport, spinning the globe on her desk and ending up on a night out in Lisbon with a trio of trainee clowns. It takes in the loneliness of the solitary traveller, the fear of growing older and why holiday towns suck out of season.

From there the essays are a varied bunch: a teenaged Crosley goes to confession in France, despite being Jewish; she encounters a bear in Alaska; remembers a ghostly army of dead pets; has an interview for a house-share that may or may not have been a hallucination. If this all sounds self-consciously kooky, don't panic. Crosley's ability to relate strange encounters and weave in her prejudices and memories prevents her stories from veering into zany, wacky or ditsy territory.

The one complaint I have about this book, as with her last, is that many of her essays seem slightly too long. But when you're caught up in her world of words, whether in the back of a fetid New York cab or hearing the voice of an old foe heard through the bathroom door of a Chinese restaurant, Crosley's eye for detail, particularly the absurd or tragic, is dangerously sharp. Her meandering asides work better in some stories than others, but one passage about an Eighties dating game for girls is perfection. "Off The Back of a Truck" is a particular triumph. While it deals with what seems like a roll call of clichés - single New York writer chronicles a failed love affair and the dastardly behaviour of her errant swain – it blows any lazy Sex and the City comparisons clean out of the water.