Ah, “The Clasp” — yet another engrossing story of three college friends discovering themselves and each other 10 years after they’ve graduated. I absorbed every word. It was almost enough to make me not miss “The Marriage Plot” for a while. Only this time, all three friends are going on an adventure through France and the story was written by a female writer, Sloane Crosley.
A Brief Summary
The story begins by introducing the three main characters, their backstories, personalities and relationships with one another. Victor is an indecisive, mopey, hopeless romantic who hasn’t really taken control of anything in his life. He also had a brief stint in college where he stole petty merchandise. Kezia, Victor’s love interest, is a witty, neurotic young woman who made me feel like she was everywhere at once, way too busy spending time trying to fix her friends’ lives while ignoring the direction of her own. Finally, there’s Nathaniel. Known as the literary guru of this friend circle, Nathaniel decided to trade in his life of writing novels for screenplays, moving to Los Angeles and relishing in all the narcissistic behaviors of that lifestyle.
The first act introduces these characters as they meet again, almost eight years out of college, at a friend’s lavish Miami wedding. Victor ends up passing out on the bed of the groom’s mother, only to wake up the next morning to an elaborate story about a missing French necklace that may or may not have been stolen by a Nazi during World War II, a secret that has been told to no one in the world other than Victor.
As the three friends return to their normal routines, back to their uncertain lives, they begin to question life choices about their careers and motivations. Victor, jobless, robbed and alone, decides to risk the very little he has and go to France in search of the missing necklace. Kezia, as a result of her boss’s ignorance, must also go to France in search of a jeweler who can help her fix a broken clasp. Nathaniel, bored with his life of sex, parties, and always trying to get ahead of everyone else, also decides to go to France to “get away” from LA.
Thus the three friends find themselves in France, with Kezia and Nathaniel beginning in Paris and Victor heading to Rouen in search of the chateau that may hold the necklace. Once Kezia catches on to Victor’s plan, she and Nathaniel drive the countryside in search of him. When they finally meet up, they discover things about themselves and each other that they didn’t know before.
My Novel Thoughts
Art imitates life…sometimes. Victor and Kezia have an unrequited relationship that is all too real. From the college flashback of Victor standing in the snow, to his crippling depression, to Kezia’s constant concern for his well-being if she goes a day without hearing from him, this friendship has “dysfunctional” written all over it. And in fact, this relationship — and the character motivations that spawn as a result of it — are what drive most of the first part of the story.
Nathaniel, on the other hand, was the least realistic character of the three. Completely self-absorbed, there was a severe lack of character motivation in Nathaniel, and most (if not all) of his actions were fueled by either sex, jealousy or boredom: instant gratification. I really don’t have time for this kind of attitude, even with literary characters. Either get your s*%& together and quit complaining, or stop doing what you’re doing and go find something more meaningful to do.
Character and plot both have an equal footing in what drives the essence of the story. While the motivations of some characters are more enticing (and present) than others, the adventurous spirit of the plot fills the holes of their uncertainty, making for an irresistible journey through literature and travel writing that will keep readers racing through the pages.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant: your classic literature companion. This sounds like an incredible short story and I had never heard of it before, yet it served as a classic literature companion to Crosley’s novel. The story goes like this: a poor-but-pretty woman, who highly valued material objects, asks a rich friend if she could borrow an expensive necklace to accompany her husband to a fancy party. The wife wears the necklace, having a great time while her husband sits bored in a corner. When the wife gets home, she realizes the necklace has fallen off. The couple retraces their steps but to no avail. They cannot find the necklace. They go into debt to pay for a new necklace and the ruse works, but the wife has to take extra jobs, burning away her youth to pay for the necklace. In the final scene, the wife runs into the rich friend, years later, tattered and broken. The friend wants to know what happened so the wife tells her the whole story. The rich friend then breaks the news to her that the necklace was fake. The woman has wasted her life for nothing. You can read the story for yourself here.
This heartbreaking tale is extremely important to “The Clasp.” They explain the short story in the book but I highly recommend reading the actual story as a companion to fully understand the themes. They are one and the same between the two stories.
It’s nice to have rich friends. The secondary characters — Rachel, Grey, Paul, Caroline and Felix — are all conveniently wealthy and serve to provide the details of the plot that is ultimately carried out by Victor, Kezia and Nathaniel. Wealth sets the plot in motion. Without the need to search for various necklaces, the trio would not have wound up in Paris in the third act.
What’s up with all the French? There are a few full paragraphs only in French, and a lot of phrases I had to understand just by context. What gives, Crosley? A fair warning if you do not speak French: keep a translator close to you when you read this book. I’m sure there were jokes I missed because I glossed over paragraphs that were only written in French.
Sloane Crosley used an assortment of recurring themes to weave her story, such as:
- The concept of things being “lost and found”
- Breaking in through windows
- Stories about necklaces
- Literary jewelry
- Life imitating art (and vice versa)
- Dissatisfaction with career expectations
- How beauty is in the eye of the beholder (for people and objects)
- The agony of faulty clasps, both on jewelry and in relationships
Some of these themes were more obvious than others, but it was a fun, intellectual exercise to notice patterns throughout the story, especially those through stories inside of stories.
But what about the ending?
I’m going to level with you: the last few chapters were terrifying, not as a result of suspense but as a result of a string of feelings and actions that did not seem realistic or true to character integrity. I was afraid an unrealistic relationship was forming and….it kinda did. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was still unrealistic, in my opinion. I was waiting for an ending that prompted the desire to create a life of fulfillment free from a forced relationship and instead…I got the forced relationship. I can’t go into it too much more without giving the entire ending away, but I’ll suffice to say that while I was expecting more of a character revelation, it did not spoil the excitement of the novel.
Overall, the ending was, in fact, enjoyable, but it left a lot of unanswered questions. I’d love to know what happened to each of Crosley’s protagonists after they returned from Paris.
- Does Nathaniel stay in Los Angeles?
- Does Victor move to France?
- Does Kezia stay with Rachel?
- Do certain budding relationships stay intact, and do feelings for others eventually fade?
Because Sloane gave us the ability to see inside the minds of three different characters, I found myself caring about each of their fates, wondering if they really would move past old habits and discover their fuller life purposes free of dependence on another person for their happiness. If she wrote a sequel, I can only imagine it would be just as good as this novel was.
This book did serve to introduce me to a hilarious and interesting female writer, Sloane Crosley. Her non-fiction book, “I Was Told There’d Be Cake,” has been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time, but I just might have to make it a priority very soon.
There are some hilarious lines in this book and the majority of the story stays lighthearted. But for anyone who has ever experienced prolonged unrequited love (and I’m talking like, a decade or more), this is the quote to beat. And I definitely needed it at the time I read it:
“She thought [he] was teasing when he said he loved everything about her. Once she realized he was being sincere, she couldn’t say it back. She wanted to give the gift of him saying it to her younger self, the one who needed to hear it. She wanted to wrap up the words in a ribbon and leave it outside [her] nineteen-year-old [self’s] dorm room. The truth was, as recently as last week it would have been a pretty solid gift. But something deep down had grown bored of wanting him, tired of being more interested in his life than he was in hers. Only now did it occur to her that her dream was not about heartbreak. It was her subconscious, waving goodbye.”