Read Bottom Up

readbottomupThe Short Version: Guy & girl meet. Tell their friends. Guy gets girl’s email, asks to meet up. Dating ensues. So does miscommunication, recommunication, sex, drinking, awkward conversations, and about six months worth of nearly every single person’s life at some point or other in the big city.

The Review: The big selling point for this novel came last fall when it was revealed that Skye Chatham is in fact a nom de porn (first pet + street you grew up on) for one Sloane Crosley. Suddenly, and I know its gauche to say but, suddenly this little quirky book that might’ve slipped most people by got a little boost.

And it deserves that boost, damn it. It’s a cute, if a little uncomfortable at times, look at dating in the modern era (at least dating in New York City) and all the ways in which most of our relationships – or flings or hookups or whatever you want to call them – don’t work out. And the trick is in the telling: the novel is entirely written in emails and text messages.

Now, if that sounds like a gimmick that’s going to get old fast, you’re not necessarily wrong – but this book honestly shouldn’t take you all that long to read. It barely tips over 200 pages and you probably read more emails today at work than are to be found in this book, meaning the gimmick is blessedly in line with the reading experience. It won’t get old before you finish the book and it actually allows for a view on not just relationships but the way people talk to one another that these stories don’t often show. Every rom-com you’ve ever seen, the main characters have a best friend who they talk to – the guys and the girls both. Except that their conversations always feel a little, well, scripted and I think that’s largely because they don’t play out like that in real life, with extended chats over the course of several hours of shopping that always have a coherent through-line even as the participants are, I don’t know, playing basketball or shopping for a new blouse. There’s something different – both more “of the moment” and more honest to the way we communicate on a more fundamental level – about sharing the story via the writing that we do, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s high art.

Most interestingly, the book doesn’t let its characters off easy. Maddie and Elliot are both full of all the problems that most twentysomethings (and even some early thirtysomethings these days) bemoan: hangovers, bad decisions, an unwillingness to actually communicate with one another. Look, we’ve all ghosted or been ghosted on. We’ve all wondered about when is the right time to DTR. And we’ve all probably had to do the uncomfortable return of a former partner’s things, sometimes even through a middle man. Elliot and Madeline’s relationship feels, in a lot of ways, like several of the relationships (or not-even-actually-relationships) I went through in my first few years in New York. If you scroll back long enough in my text conversations with my guy friends (looking at you especially, Darren and Steve), I’m sure you’ll find humblebrags and gripes about women that were actually subtle manifestations of my unconscious desire not to be involved with them… and it doesn’t exactly feel nice on the far end of things, to look back and think back. Shah & Crosley do a great job of capturing exactly that – and even as the book leaves us with a wink of a happy ending, the whole thing winds up feeling a little blergy. Blergy being a highly scientific term for a feeling that, if you’ve ever had it, you definitely understand it.

But also? Maybe I’m looking back on my own relationships, as prompted by this novel, from a place of privilege: all the reasons that those relationships didn’t work out (and the reasons that the one between Elliot and Madeline doesn’t) are exactly the reasons that my current relationship works so well. I can’t help thinking that I would’ve been nodding my head a lot more passionately throughout this book had I read it, oh, two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still nodding my head… but with that slightly condescending attitude that comes from growing up a little bit. You know the one.

Rating: 4 out of 5. Surprisingly, the gimmick of the book (written entirely in texts and emails, between the couple and between them and their best friends) doesn’t overstay its welcome and actually makes for a delightful, speedy reading experience. Shah and Chatham (OR SHOULD I SAY CROSLEY) also apparently wrote the book in real time to one another (makes me think of the last book-written-via-emails I read, Heads You Lose) and there’s a veracity to the pacing and the reality of the conversations that raises the book above just a quirky experiment. Plus, what can I say? I’ve been there – in Maddie’s and Elliot’s shoes. What’s there not to like, even if it cuts a little close to the bone at times?

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