In the kickoff essay in “How Did You Get This Number,” Sloane Crosley's recently published second volume of autobiographical essays, the writer, a well-liked literary publicist, describes how, months before turning 30, she spun her globe and booked a flight to the place her finger landed, Lisbon. How spontaneous! How impulsive! How glamorous! But writing just a few years after her trip, Crosley describes her adventure as a grim, surrealist jumble of days. Isolated by the language barrier, Crosley spent an off-season week wending her way through Lisbon's impenetrable tangle of streets and watching porn in an uncomfortable hotel room alone. “While the emotional sum total of my trip would eventually add up to happiness … hidden between the cathedral and castle tours was the truth,” Crosley writes. “I have never felt more alone.” It's a terrific evocation of how many women feel, not necessarily about their off-peak vacations to minor European capitals, but about the journey through early adulthood that Crosley is chronicling.
Embedded in Crosley's quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women's lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing's autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now – miraculously – find somewhat ho-hum.