Girls talk

By SHARON STEEL  |  June 20, 2010

"I was going to die alone, surrounded by juicers and bread makers and a hundred other DIY gadgets meant for people who have too much time on their hands and never have sex," writes Crosley in "Off the Back of the Truck," the final and most tender essay in her book, chronicling the rise and fall of a romantic relationship. Her method is to apply simple math to an emotional bender — the amount of time it takes for masochism to morph into wise distance, and the things and the people that you allow to seep into your life, despite the fact that you can't afford them.

Gould reaches an analogous conclusion in "Going Dutch," a piece about the various hook-ups and conquests she finds herself pursuing after the dissolution of a six-year relationship. (This is the same public break-up that led to the publication of a first-person cover piece in the New York Times Magazine two years ago.) "My life from now on was going to be just waking up in strangers' beds and making my way from there to a beloved relative's funeral alone, basically."

In How Did You Get This Number, Crosley is primarily interested in unpacking the humor in the twisted anecdotes that mark various phases in her life, from lying to a priest during a confessional in Notre Dame (Crosley is Jewish) to indulging in some schadenfreude — "the ultimate New York comfort food, surpassing even the cupcake" — in the first moment of a late-night cab ride. She's the bastard daughter of Larry David and Dorothy Parker — many good writers use a similar trick of turning their bizarre predilections into purportedly hysterical musings, but Crosley's actually are hysterical. She likes it when a roommate heads out of town, for example, because the air is filled with the possibility that "you could have a crazy scarf orgy in which you invite a bunch of people over and each person takes a scarf from your roommate's closet and has sex wearing their scarf of choice."

And the Heart Says Whatever, by contrast, sees Gould unveiling a headier, more emotional portrait of her late teens and early 20s. She is less funny and also less self-effacing than Crosley, exposing thoughts that most people wouldn't admit to anyone. In addition to cheating on her boyfriend, breaking up with him, then sleeping with him to see if they might still be in love, Gould adopts a dog that she quickly grows to despise (Crosley also hates her dog growing up), and admits to being a mean girl who is wildly preoccupied with status. It's more applicable to compare Gould not to a fiction or nonfiction writer, but to one of her heroines, the songwriter Liz Phair. Phair has written many destabilizing, intimate songs that recognize how important sex, awful crushes, and relationships — and openly discussing them — are to women, even if they make you look bad and men uncomfortable.

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