Sloane Crosley’s funny, confessional essay collection, “I Was Told There’d Be Cake,” was nominated for a Thurber prize. Her follow-up, “How Did You Get This Number,” was a New York Times bestseller. Now her first novel, “The Clasp” is out on October 6.
“It centers around three friends who reunite at a wedding when they’re adults– Nathaniel, Victor and Kezia,” Sloane said of the book. “This wedding turns out to be more than they bargained for… one of the three friends drunkenly falls asleep on the mother-of-the-groom’s bed.” The scene launches a madcap adventure through Europe, but before that, reader is introduced to all three characters. The excerpt below is from the introduction to Nathaniel.
The morning haze had yet to burn off. It was the hour at which Los Angeles feels most like San Francisco. Nathaniel went for a run around the reservoir, kicking up sand, watching women in the dog park. He ran back up the hill, too, the whole way.
A month ago, after years of extolling the health benefits of a life in L.A., something inside his body had turned on him. He felt fatigued no matter how much he slept or how much hot yoga he did. Sometimes he experienced shortness of breath just walking across a studio lot. He was about to turn thirty, not fifty. So he went to a nutritionist in Inglewood, who told him to incorporate more zinc in his diet and drink more water. Then he went to an energy healer, who told him more or less the same thing, but tacked on some meditative breathing exercises. Then he went to a kinesiologist, who suggested he keep both his legs elevated above his heart whenever possible. Especially when in the shower.
“Even when in the shower?”
“No,” said the kinesiologist, “especially.”
It all worked for a while, but then one day he was sitting at home, legs up, trying to work, and his vision blurred. The page of dialogue he had just written transformed into impenetrable chunks of black squiggle. His heart started racing like a hummingbird’s. That’s what he told the cardiologist, who told him that if that were true, he’d be dead.
“Super dead,” he clarified, “twelve hundred beats per minute.”
Then the cardiologist told him that a whale beat would also because for concern (six beats per minute) and that giraffes have a second heart in their necks. Apparently, he was leaning toward veterinary medicine before switching to humans.
The cardiologist conducted the usual tests for abnormalities. It wasn’t a palpitation. It wasn’t an arrhythmia. It wasn’t a panic attack, either. Well, Nathaniel could have told him that. He didn’t have an office job or a mortgage or kids to panic about, just the steady pressure of being one of Los Angeles’s two million aspiring TV writers. As many as a whole day’s worth of hummingbird heartbeats.
No, Nathaniel’s heart appeared to be a dutiful muscle, opening and shutting its valves firmly. So what was it, then? At long last, his second electrocardiogram came back, bearing the gift of a diagnosis: Nathaniel had an abnormally small heart.
“For a guy in the prime of his life, you have an abnormally small heart. It’s not serious, you’re not going to keel over. But it could explain the sudden, uneven heart rate and the lightheadedness. Do you smoke?”
Nathaniel shook his head.
“Do you exercise?”
He thought it was clear that he did. He was a naturally slim person but a belly would appear on his abdomen if he did nothing to deter it. He had been very successful in keeping it at bay. Still, the doctor told him that he needed to get his heart rate up more often.
“That’s why athletes have huge hearts,” he said, removing his stethoscope.
Nathaniel considered the drug and sex scandals that plagued professional athletes. He started to say it, sitting there in his underwear, “they’re not known for their huge hearts.” Then he thought better of it. This doctor had chosen the most symbolic specialty in all the medical profession. He’d probably had it with other wise intelligent people conflating medicine and symbolism. Nathaniel was no different. He knew that if he had received the opposite diagnosis–that of a swelled heart, bursting out of his chest–he would have told anyone who would listen. He would have used it to gain access to the sympathies and beds of women especially. Not that he needed the assistance, but man: what a deal-sealer. He would have used it to win back the attention, if not the affection, of Bean, a painfully attractive but mediocre actress who had blown him off months ago. Bean was so hot, in one night he went down on her four times and cooed at photos of her new pet rabbit in between.
He ran faster up the hill. No matter how fast he ran, his diagnosis felt more like a verdict. He couldn’t escape the symbolism. He had not loved a member of the opposite sex in approximately ever. Maybe he never would. And it wasn’t just humans for which he lacked passion. His love for a life of writing and literature, once fueled by an intense, gut- level admiration of stories and novels, was now fueled by the external forces of fame and wealth. He confused competition with love and because everyone in Los Angeles was equally as confused, he felt totally sane.
Now he was going to doctors because his heart knew what his mind didn’t.
He stood next to the refrigerator, refilling his water from the door and panting while his house mate, Percy, went back and forth from the kitchen with a plate of eggs. Nathaniel stood there, sweating, watching Percy add more hot sauce with each trip.
“Or you could take the bottle with you.”
“When do you leave again?”
“Tomorrow.” Nathaniel put his glass down.
“And whose wedding is this?”
“You don’t know her. Girl from college.”
“No, random chick. You don’t know her.”
“Nonsense. I know everyone, old man.”
Percy went back to watching a movie in the living room. Some screener that displayed its screener status every five minutes. Old man? Nathaniel realized that, in addition to the heavy panting, he had been touching his lower back. So he stopped.
Excerpted from THE CLASP: A Novel by Sloane Crosley, published in October 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright (C) 2015 by Sloane Crosley. All rights reserved.