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Cult Classic


Cult Classic

Imagine a whole cult centered on you, and you are unaware of its existence. Imagine the collective brainpower of a group of friends and strangers pushing you to make a particular decision from afar. Imagine confronting a parade of your exes, one night after the next, as you navigate the streets of the city where you live. Now, imagine all of this is happening at once in an interconnected, esoteric and strange set of metaphysical manipulations emanating from a repurposed New York City synagogue.

Having a hard time imagining this scenario? Never fear. Sloane Crosley has put it all together for you in her latest novel, CULT CLASSIC, a darkly humorous and affectingly serious exploration of romantic relationships and the big questions they engender.

"CULT CLASSIC is a stylish book that blends smarts and snark, cynicism and optimism, playfulness and thoughtfulness."

Leaving dinner with her closest friends to get a pack of cigarettes, Lola runs into her ex-boyfriend, Amos. They had broken up about six years ago after being together for two years, and Lola is now engaged to a man she has nicknamed Boots. Of course, her engagement has caused her to think carefully about her feelings for Boots and her past relationships. But her sidewalk reunion with Amos complicates her emotions, and she begins to contemplate more deeply her romantic history and her future with her fiancé. Is she really committed to Boots? Or is she just taking the path of least resistance?

Lola’s thoughts get even more convoluted after she runs into another ex-boyfriend. And another. Boots is out of town for work, and she is overwhelmed by these encounters. Her views on love, partnership, romance and compatibility are spiraling. And she must confront her own shortcomings, desires and needs, even as she comes to realize that these meetings are less random than they first appeared.

As it turns out, Lola’s run-ins with her exes are being engineered by one of her closest friends, Clive Glenn. Lola worked for Clive, along with her other good friends, Vadis and Zach, for many years at a now-defunct magazine. While there was an initial attraction between Lola and the charismatic Clive, they maintained a platonic friendship beyond work, a friendship that she felt she could count on. But Clive reveals that he has created a strange experiment --- perhaps even a cult --- that centers on Lola. Inside a seemingly empty synagogue, he has created a space dedicated to thinking about Lola and her ex-boyfriends. He has gathered strangers, and even friends like Vadis, to think about her and bring her together with her former partners and even brief affairs, with the goal of forcing her into a final decision about Boots.

Lola never consented to Clive’s efforts or his plans to build a business modeled on this dry run, yet she is drawn in. As days go by, she becomes obsessed with which person from her past she will see next and what that meeting will mean for her feelings about Boots and about herself. The inevitable confrontation with her fiancé builds tension throughout. In the end, despite the metaphysical slant, these characters are firmly rooted in human feelings --- flawed, imperfect, unpredictable, troubling and undeniably sincere.

CULT CLASSIC is a stylish book that blends smarts and snark, cynicism and optimism, playfulness and thoughtfulness. The premise is inventive and compelling --- not just the idea of revisiting old relationships, but the mechanism of how it works. Clive’s cult is not overly explained, and Crosley could have upped the menace just a bit for greater impact. Still, she is more concerned with the emotions and the effects of Clive’s enterprise on Lola than a scientific realism. Crosley’s writing is brisk and witty, if sometimes overworked. She turns a phrase with distinct aplomb, sharp humor and keen insightfulness.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 24, 2022

Cult Classic
by Sloane Crosley