The author of “Cult Classic” dishes on her deeply New York novel

New York is very much not dead, but it is indeed a ghost town. The city is steeped in history, and if you’ve lived here long enough, it’s probably rare you walk a few blocks and don’t reflect on which banks used to be cool bars and which buildings you used to visit your ex at and which corner—well, you get it. It’s a city of infinite possibility and stacked memories, a place where, at any time, you can be struck with a powerful reminiscence and equally as likely run into someone completely random and out of context. 

Such is the premise of author Sloane Crosley’s latest novel, Cult Classic, in which 37-year-old protagonist Lola runs into her ex while buying cigarettes in Chinatown. Cringe. It gets worse. She continues running into boyfriends from her past, making Manhattan a collective of ghosts who broke her heart. Spooky. It’s a deeply New York novel, from a writer known for her essays on New York living. Time Out caught up with Crosley to share her love (and sometimes disdain) for New York. 

This is such a New York novel! What’s your approach to writing about the city?

Oftentimes, New Yorkers will tell ourselves things are only in NYC, when people do, in fact, run into their exes in Minneapolis…So much of this book is about run-ins. New York does draw all types of characters. And to take its magical turn, that needs to be bolstered with realism. Is it possible that everyone you have ever dated is visiting New York? Yes. What other city is like that? The most realistic part of this book is that it takes place in NYC…the city silently becomes the backdrop, another character. I wasn’t that conscious of Cult Classic being an NYC novel, but that’s what readers told me on tour, what they liked about it. If they lived here, they feel seen, and if they didn’t, they have a nostalgia for it because of the novel. Hopefully, that part of it is a success. If it’s New York or nowhere, you don’t have to say it.

Where do you like to write in New York? 

One does not go places when one writes. I go from the front of my apartment to the back of my apartment. I’m in the West Village, but the book takes place all over the city, mostly on the Lower East Side, plus a New York Athletic Club and some uptown and midtown offices. I can’t do the coffee shop thing. I can’t write in public, I’m easily distracted, too much out-of-body of watching myself as a woman on a laptop at a cafe, and I can’t stand it.

Writing is such a solitary experience, especially if you’re writing something like a novel. Cult Classic at the end of the day, this is a nighttime novel. Very few scenes take place during the day—even Lola’s memories are at parties, rooftops, restaurants, on the subway. It’s very dark, even though it’s a comedy. 

When I was working on it, I would make sure that I wouldn’t just be staring at my computer in my apartment kitchen to write and instead go out with friends. I think that if something is supposed to be fun, you can lose the pulse of that if you just can’t talk to anyone when you’re on deadline. But the thing I was on deadline for involves so much banter between characters and relationships—you have to go have some [experiences].  

Sloane Crosley
Photograph: Beowulf Sheehan | The writer Sloane Crosley in New York.

Since you’re writing at home, where do you like to escape to? 

Bar Goto. I love that place. It feels like one of those places where there are magically always seats. It has a good crowd and in today’s parlance,  the vibes are on point. I also like Time, a new sushi place. When I was there I had way too many martinis and the food was delicious. I also really love Altro Paradiso, Soda Club for amazing vegan Italian food and Lafayette for breakfast. I love it there. And yes, I’ve had the croissant. There’s something about a carnivorous breakfast place that reminds me of the sort of prep school I never went to, like the cafeteria at Choate. I wouldn’t know, but I find it very decadent. When I leave my neighborhood, the West Village, I like Cafe Select and Oxalis

What made you choose the LES as a primary setting? 

Most of the action is within a five-block radius of an abandoned synagogue, which is based on one around Forsyth Street. There are actually a few old shuls on the Lower East Side. It’s an amazing area to wander around. I love going to Clandestino and Russ & Daughters. I’m very familiar with the area and being very familiar with something is so important for satire. The opening scene of Cult Classic takes place at a [fictional] fusion restaurant on Broadway. The menu mocks it, with dishes like General Tso’s souffle, and very specific bespoke cocktails. 

“If it’s New York or nowhere, you don’t have to say it.”

What are you working on now? 

I have a forthcoming memoir about grief that’s hopefully a little bit funny. I’ve lived in New York for 23 years and stayed through the mishigas of the pandemic. I thought about cheering myself up, so I doubled down and wrote about a very depressing subject. 

What’s kept you in New York for over 20 years? 

There’s a mix of opposing forces of hunger and laziness. You feel like this is the center of so much, so much possibility, this is your home and where your life is, it’s forever inspiring. You can become weary with New York, it’s pretty easy to no longer be charmed by certain aspects, but that’s different than becoming unstimulated. I’ve never been understimulated by New York. I write about it in nonfiction and fiction, and the satirical observations really land. You have to love something and know it really, really well to make fun of it in print. Same with the exes. 

For more on Sloane’s writing and to read through her collection of New York essays, visit her website,

Cult Classic
Photograph: “Cult Classic” by Sloane Crosley

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