If Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons represents the insights of an older man on the lives of college students, Chloe Does Yale is the response to Wolfe by the subjects he attempts to observe. Written as if in a weekend over spring break, Chloe is a hot pink and boring fairy tale that chronicles the school days of an insecure coed who moonlights as a sex columnist for the college paper.
The author, Natalie Krinsky, wrote a sex column for the Yale Daily News—many college papers now carry student-written sex columns. And while Chloe, Krinsky’s fictionalized alter ego, often felt discomfited by her status as Yale’s sexpert—especially around Mom and Dad—Krinsky has grown comfortable with the persona. She’s moved on to New York and now writes a blog for the Village Voice called “Natalie Does New York.”
Chloe and her friends spend most of their time either naked or engaged in sarcastic conversation about other people, often doing both at the same time. While sarcasm comes easily, especially to these self-satisfied Ivy Leaguers, nudity, despite its frequency, does not.
In the opening scene, Chloe, wearing a skimpy bikini, attends Exotic Erotic, a party for “well-read scantily clad” Yalies. The party, which actually did exist at Yale, finds Chloe in a pensive mood, the depth of which is as thoughtful as the novel gets.
Once inside it occurs to me, as it does every year, that being nearly naked in front of four thousand other people who are nearly naked is quite an interesting, if not jarring, experience. It’s the kind of experience that takes a generous amount of Jack (as in Daniel’s) or Johnnie (as in Walker) to justify.
When not engaged in such soul-searching, Chloe attempts equally stimulating conversation. Chloe’s friend Lisa does her best to catch young professors, and in this dining hall scene she and Chloe discuss her current predicament (She is dating two assistant professors).
“Because dating two is far too much existential thought for my brain to handle.”
“Can we back up?” I ask.
Lisa nods impatiently and takes a bite out of her 600-calorie chicken Caesar wrap. It’s all right because this is a time of severe crisis.
“Are you going to name your Kantian love child Immanuel? And then go on Maury Povich to find out who the real father is?” I can’t take Lisa seriously because she’s always seeing at least two guys.
Chloe, although she is unable to attain the romantic success of her friends and is stung by criticism of any sort, always remains upbeat and ready to insert a witty reference. But it’s no surprise that Chloe does find love, or at least companionship, at the end, with a British grad student. They meet when Chloe, returning early from another naked party and wearing a garbage bag (she lost her clothes), deigns to take public transportation.
For Chloe doing Yale is simply navigating the vicissitudes of her college life: trying to pick out the right pair of shoes, ordering lattes, reading Virgil, and having to explain to the parents that their daughter pens an often graphically-detailed sex column for the school paper. The snobbery and smarminess makes Animal House look like the good old days.
The novel most likely works best for Krinsky’s classmates who are well-acquainted with the oft-referenced New Haven landmarks and see classmates—or themselves—in Krinsky’s characters. For the rest of us, Chloe is likely a book we will only shamefully admit to having read.
Larry Scholer is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.