Cult Classic is a sharp, feminine tale about the cult of romance, commitment phobia, and New York City.
The novel follows the newly engaged Lola, a magazine editor, who begins coincidentally running into her ex-boyfriends all across New York City. She slinks in and out of swanky, dimly lit bars, navigating a city that is bursting with stimulus on every corner. To Lola, that is New York: an interconnected web of people that could regurgitate an avoidable acquaintance at a moment’s notice.
There’s an almost painful sense of control and a simultaneous lack of it in this novel. The all-seeing cult uses the powers of the universe and all the available data points to chart the course of her day, strategically planting exes for her to run across and reckon with. Below the fantastical, postmodern surface of algorithms, experiments, and an omniscient entity, however, there lies the story of a young woman, who is terrified to give up control to the universe— afraid of what demons she might uncover if she looks back even for a second.
Throughout the text, Crosley takes some of the most incisive, disturbing observations about modern day romance and dresses them up in the form of cynical, biting wit— passing them off as casual, nonchalant truths of contemporary dating. Lola is doubtful of almost all narratives: she’s not only doubtful of all of her past relationships, but also of the healthy, stable relationship she is currently in. She’s rightfully distrustful of shitty men and archaic institutions that don’t seem to serve her; however, she also can’t deny the power of romantic connection, nor can she ignore the weight of the word “ex-boyfriend” that seems to haunt her despite Lola’s best efforts to leave the past behind her.
In, perhaps the most telling quote in the novel, Lola says:
“Romance may be the world’s oldest cult. It hooks you when you’re vulnerable, holds your deepest fears as collateral, renames you something like ’baby,’ brainwashes you, then makes you think that your soul will wither and die if you let go of a person who loved you.”
The novel’s nihilism on the other hand is dressed down by the rush Lola gets when she comes across her various exes, each a completely different archetype from the previous. It is only at the end when the strands begin to come together that we learn Lola isn’t superior in her judgments nor alone in her misery.
It makes perfect sense that Crosley’s novel is set in New York City. A cosmopolitan jungle, New York is the only place that seems big yet small enough to house enough living and non-living oddities to keep things interesting. It is, perhaps, one of the few cities in the world that could house an arsenal of ex-lovers, tucked away in their respective subcultural bubbles, only to be summoned by a cult-like force with omniscient powers. Cult Classic is a decidedly urban story of the perils of a walkable city with accessible art, culture, and magic, where the unexpected may suddenly happen in the late hours of the night. In a city full of opportunity and distractions, Lola’s paralyzing fear of commitment seems realistic and disturbing enough to less cynical readers.
Crosley brings together wisps of influence that are evocative of the cult in Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and the wayward absurdity of Scorsese’s After Hours. Nonetheless, her work carries an original, genre-evading, and undeniably feminine stamp that feels groundbreaking in its voice.
—Megha Ganapathy, Fall 2022 Staff
SLOANE CROSELY is the author of the novels Cult Classic and The Clasp, as well as three books of essays collections, most recently Look Alive Out There and the New York Times bestsellers I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number. A two-time finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, her work has been selected for numerous anthologies. Her next book, Grief Is for People, will be out in early 2024. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair, she lives in New York City.
Cult Classic can be purchased here.