While all of Bret Easton Ellis’ novels apart from American Psycho are either unknown or underlooked by the general public, the influence of his other narratives is evident in everything from Tamas Dobozy’s “Field Recordings” (a Lunar Park style of writing oneself into the story) to Zoolander (Glamorama). Thus, it comes as no shock that Sloane Crosley’s third novel and first work of bona fide fiction–I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number? both favor the personal essay route–should borrow heavily from the tone and dynamic of Easton Ellis’ 1987 work The Rules of Attraction.
In the latter, Easton Ellis centers his story around three main characters, Lauren Hynde, Paul Denton and Sean Bateman, students at a liberal arts college loosely modeled after Easton Ellis’ own alma mater, Bennington. Crosley’s The Clasp, conversely (yet similarly), sets the narrative of three friends, Victor, Kezia and Nathaniel, roughly six years after graduating from college, that point when you start to question why you’re still friends with someone. In this version of the love triangle, Victor fills the role of Paul, Nathaniel of Sean and Lauren of Kezia. Like Paul, Victor finds himself the victim of an unrequited love that begins when he first meets Kezia in college. And Nathaniel, much in the vein of Sean’s personality, is most concerned with himself. And finally, Kezia possesses the same neuroticism and propensity for bad luck as Lauren.
What makes The Clasp a sort of what if follow-up to The Rules of Attraction is how world-weary and tired of everyone else–not leastly the main characters–seems to be. Had Easton Ellis decided to write a sequel to his sophomore novel (as he did for his first, Less Than Zero, with Imperial Bedrooms), one imagines this same line from The Clasp being culled from it as part of a flashback to when things were still fresh and exciting in college: “They knew one another well, but not so well that they were sickened by the sight of one another. There were still a couple of stones left to be unturned, either in the form of new classmates or eccentric sides to those already known.”
Both The Rules of Attraction and The Clasp explore the unfortunate phenomenon of becoming less fond of those one associates with over time; and of how one starts to question whether he’s still friends with someone out of enjoyment or out of obligation due to how many years and how many memories are tied to that person. With Crosley’s novel reuniting the trio at the wedding of Caroline Markson, a wealthy former classmate who believes in friendships based on the latter reasoning, The Clasp immediately sets the stage for how easy one falls into his role based on decade-long dynamics. For Victor, the role is simple: chip-on-shoulder failure. For Nathaniel, the part of successful Hollywood writer is all he knows how to play–no matter how untrue it currently is. Where Kezia is concerned, the lines are somewhat more blurred. Though she’s long believed herself to be in love with Nathaniel, she appears to exhibit a greater sense of near motherly concern for Victor’s well-being, which stems, in part, from both of them living in the same city, New York. However, what elevates Crosley’s work to a more literary level is its constant reference to a masterwork of literature, Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace, after which The Clasp is in part named as homage. Throughout the book, deliberately plucked portions of the story are revealed in conjunction with their relevance to that particular part of The Clasp. In the midst of the novel’s beginning (page 64), when Nathaniel still has yet to fully shed the illusions of his vanity, Crosley first writes, “Nathaniel, like many of his classmates, had read [The Necklace] before. It was a fable about greed and stupidity and futility.” Each of these three nouns represents one of the friends: Nathaniel’s greed for fame and recognition, Kezia’s stupidity in lusting after Nathaniel and Victor’s futility in lusting after Kezia. Crosely then draws the following from The Necklace, “How little it takes to doom you or save you.” Naturally, this applies to the trio of friends in both novels, particularly with regard to attractions that can never be realized or equitably returned.
Indeed, in The Rules of Attraction, it is asserted, “No one ever likes the right person.” But at least The Clasp, with its slightly more mature cast of characters, can somewhat remedy this fact with an ending that is able to see through some sort of arc–one that enables each person to move on while remaining together. And yes, while such change is sad, it’s not, to use the final words from The Clasp, “unbearably sad.”