Book Review: New in Print
Reviewed by Monica Riese, Fri., Feb. 25, 2011
The Intimatesby Ralph Sassone
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pp., $24
At its core, Ralph Sassone's debut novel, The Intimates, showcases a frank and charming portrait of the unconventional love between absorbent Maize and anal-retentive Robbie, who met in high school and fumbled with flirtation before becoming constant platonic threads in each other's lives for the next decade.
In practice, though, they are separated by years and by continents, by omissions and miscommunications; in fact, they're together only in e-mails and memories until the third act. We observe their friendship mostly through the lenses of others – reflections and refractions are meaningfully scattered throughout the tale – but we can glean that their friendship is a modern one, complicated but steady, especially in their roles as "each other's human diaries."
As our heroes stumble through the revolving door of lovers, jobs, and (in Maize's case) haircuts in their tumultuous teens and twenties, a fascinating character study emerges. Sassone's strength, though – his precise characterizations – turns out to be his weakness as well. The entirety of his collection of brainstormed metaphors seems to have made its way into the novel (one character is, in the course of half a page, "an unsolved puzzle," "a horror movie," and "a psychic channeling different voices during a séance"), weakening the otherwise apt comparisons and making minor characters, by means of their concision, more approachable, despite their relegation to roles as oversexed boyfriends or archetypal co-workers. Unfortunately, "without reminders [people] could forget entire experiences," and many seemingly significant cohorts are little but footnotes later on.
Though relatively little actually transpires in the course of the novel – she applies for college, loses her virginity, gets fired by a kleptomaniac boss; he visits his estranged father in Rome, has an affair with an older professor; and they both help Robbie's mother pack up his childhood home before a move – we're reminded that "the big changes [come] mostly at odd, unexpected moments ... during ordinary conversations instead of speeches ...
"And while you were waiting for them to occur things got taken."
One can't help but wonder if Sassone meant to include the words "for granted" at the end of that sentence, as it seems each protagonist holds the love and happiness the other seeks – and has all along – but remains a silent supporter along for the ride.