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In “Cult Classic,” Crosley turns his satirical gaze on love in an age of search options, data trails, Instagram-imposed memories, an ever-present past. Its heroine, Lola, an inexhaustibly ironic copywriter, is engaged to Boots, a glassblower who went to Brown and who, Lola observes more than once, is 6ft 3in tall – as if his physical presence always registers her. like a list of facts, a walking Hinge profile. Those winning qualities aside, Boots doesn’t get Lola’s full attention. She’s preoccupied with a box full of letters from her exes, who she often thinks about; it doesn’t help that their personal sites and semi-professional portraits, their grids populated with newborn girls, their more than lukewarm reviews of overly long second novels are just a few keystrokes away.
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Then, surreal, the all-too-present past presents itself to Lola IRL; over the course of a few days, she meets a series of her exes, each time struggling to experience something like closure. There’s Amos, a curmudgeon who doesn’t like smartphones, beaches and cushions; there’s Willis, a former Olympian who now lives in the Midwest with a health coach; there’s Jonathan, Lola’s college boyfriend, with whom she exchanged wry birthday cards and Polaroids, their relationship “hampered by kindness”; there is Oscar; there is Philip; there is Aaron; there is Knox; there is Peter; there are others, which pile up like events in a newsfeed, the depth of their stories flattened by the timeliness with which Lola passes them by, the content of their characters pressed into the pleasing form of his criticisms (often very funny).
“Could I be with someone I dated if only I had been just a Hair less critical? Lola wonders. The fact that she is aware of her habits can protect her from the trivial accusation of enmity. But its tendency to confuse men — or at least some of them — into a blur of micro-annoyances, crudely worded demands for non-monogamy, and unevenly distributed bills undermines the love story of much meaning or of pleasure: it doesn’t matter that Lola ends with Boots, when their relationship, like the others before her, can be reduced to a few superficial qualities, her size and the hobbies of her friends, eating cereal salads with spades picnics in the park?
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Crosley’s fast-paced wit and plot lends itself better to some of the later “Cult Classic” scenes, which take place in a marble-laden boot space inside an abandoned synagogue, complete with espresso, but , notably, no cold-pressed juice, on offer. Here, we learn that Lola’s ex-dating was no accident, but part of a scheme hatched by her former partner in flirtation, Clive, “a Fitzgeraldian figure with an appalling carbon footprint.” The two worked together at a now-folded magazine, Modern Psychology, which inspired him to start a business with Lola as his unwitting test subject. Could immersion therapy cure nostalgia and indecisiveness in love? Hard to say. “It’s not rocket science,” notes Clive. “I mean, it’s not Science neither does science. His directness is charming, and his charm attracts a team of workers whose commitment borders on voluntary exploitation. “I would do that for free,” exclaims one of his buddies. To which an indignant Lola replies: “you do do it for free.
The cult quality of companies offering camaraderie instead of a living wage is an ideal subject for Crosley, who confuses the setup but warmly regards those who fall for it. After the decline of modern psychology, Lola herself is caught in an unsatisfactory position on an artistic site, “covering culture instead of creating it”.
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Inevitably, his work affects his personal life. Lola laments that she has become a superficial consumer, a “people hoarder”, “detailing… faults as if I had none”. In a moving moment of sincerity, she observes, “perhaps the Internet has spoiled us more than we suspected and we already suspected a lot”.
Although a longer-lasting love is presented as an alternative to internet glamor, Crosley doesn’t seem to commit to that deepening of character and connection by the end. Instead, the book is a fun mirror on a set of alienated townsfolk, an endless source of clean-cut catches.
Maddie Crum is a writer and editor in New York.
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