THE INTIMATES by Ralph Sassone

Book Quote:

“He wasn’t a student anymore, at least formally. He was nearly twenty-three and out of school for a year. Whether he liked it or not, many things had started to merge and coalesce in an unsortable tangle, enlarge and expand and grow complications like mold.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (FEB 21, 2011)

“What is it About Twenty-Somethings?” asked a recent story in the New York Times. The article—one of the most popular on the newspaper’s website—talked about the “changing timetable for adulthood” these days and the concept of “emerging adulthood.” The article’s author, Robin Marantz Henig, wrote: “The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.”

Robbie and Maize, the principal characters in Ralph Sassone’s immensely readable debut novel, The Intimates, totally fit the profile of these restless and searching young adults. As the book opens, the two are still in high school; Maize nurses a crush on her guidance counselor and when Robbie’s path crosses hers, it doesn’t immediately amount to much. Robbie is gay—a fact he doesn’t realize until much later in high school.

Maize and Robbie meet again during the college years and it is then that they become inseparable friends; after graduating they become roommates in New York City. They also become each other’s sounding boards as each goes through a different form of sexual awakening and through mediocre entry-level jobs.

Robbie has a brief but torrid affair with a young and needy college professor while Maize loses her virginity to a college admissions officer. Sassone chronicles the characters’ slow march toward adulthood through their sexual maturation as well. Towards the end when Robbie finds out that his lover, Daniel, is really not the ideal partner, you can tell Robbie has become wiser in forming this judgment.

As much as one can fault Robbie and Maize for their listlessness, you wonder how much of a role their parents play in their general malaise. The two are united by a general sense of resentment toward their parents—Robbie and Maize are convinced they can never measure up to their parents’ high expectations. When Robbie lands an unpaid internship after graduating from college, his mother’s acerbic reaction underlines the point: “Terrif, Robbie. You spend years getting honors so you can type and file and run other people’s errands for forty hours a week. And for free.”

“Meaningful changes didn’t happen when you expected and that you didn’t graduate when everybody else claimed you did, with ceremonies and celebrations and moving vans, with diplomas and severed ribbons cut to applause,” Sassone explains in The Intimates. He does a great job of exploring the lives of his young protagonists through their sexual awakening and eventually, as they stand on the cusp of real adulthood. Towards the end of the book, they have “No boyfriends, no significant new relationships, no parties or meetings or avenues where they fully belonged, no serious prospects, no commitment to graduate school or rigorous self-education or anything else.” Nevertheless the book never feels like a drag probably because the characters are so actively invested in making things turn out right.

Back to the Times article, emerging adulthood was defined by “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between” and “a sense of possibilities.”

In (arguably) the best scene in the book, the older, twenty-something Maize comes across a newspaper announcement showing Bethany Campbell, a once popular girl in high school, now married to an investment banker. Even if everything about Bethany at school screamed “I Will Marry Well” Maize is shaken by the finality of the announcement and worse, the ordinariness of it. “Had she expected Bethany to be exceptional? To break out of the cage of her former identity and become someone completely unexpected?” Maize wonders. The answer is yes, she did. The pain she feels is of course not just for Bethany but for all their younger selves—hers and Robbie’s included. Here Maize mourns the slow erosion of the “sense of possibilities.” Like it or not, adulthood is right around the corner. And Maize already suspects it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 1, 2011)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another book about friendships:

The Legacy by Kirstin Tranter


February 21, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Contemporary, Debut Novel, New York City

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