Synopses & Reviews
A powerful and compassionate debut novel about friendship and how it helps shape us into the people we are
The Intimates is a brilliant and deeply moving first novel about the varieties of romance. Spanning years and continents, beginnings and endings, it is about two gifted and striving people who discover themselves in the reflection they see in each other, and how their affinity anchors them at critical points in their lives.
Maize and Robbie are drawn to each other from the first time they meet in high school. When it becomes obvious that their relationship wont be sexual, they establish a different kind of intimacy: becoming each others “human diaries.” Their passionate Friendship plays out against a backdrop of charged connections: with lovers and would be lovers, family members, teachers, and bosses. For the better part of a decade theyre inseparable fellow travelers, but ultimately they must confront the underside of the extreme and complicated closeness that has sustained them since they were teenagers.
Full of indelible characters, engrossing situations, and observations as sharply witty as they are lovely and profound, The Intimates renders the wonders and disappointments of becoming an adult, the thrills and mesmerizing illusions of sex, and the secrets we keep from others and ourselves as we struggle to locate our true character. The Intimates marks the emergence of a remarkable new voice.
“Ralph Sassone has created two of the most compelling characters in years . . . Often funny, The Intimates is a touching platonic love story from beginning to end.” —John Moore, Examiner.com
“The emotional insight of Ralph Sassones The Intimates puts one in mind of Claire Messud, Joanna Smith Rakoff or Julia Glass, novelists who trace the evolution of friendships among smart New York types, gay and straight . . . A large supporting cast is fully imagined . . . Even those who appear for a few pages, like Maizes stepfather, come right off the page.” —Marion Winik, Newsday
“Examining the notion that lovers come and go but friendships last a lifetime, Ralph Sassones debut novel . . . delves into the rarely-explored literary topic of adult heterosexual relationships uncomplicated by sexual tension . . . Sassone deftly cuts to the core of a quarter-life crisis mindset . . . Its hard to imagine any adult reader (particularly among recent college graduates) who wouldnt identify with at least some aspects of the characters personalities . . . The Intimates is actually about the idea of families, the ones were born into and the ones we choose for ourselves.” —Liz Raftery, The Boston Globe
“Sassone has a keen understanding of the professional indignities and romantic frustrations of the young and well educated.” —The New Yorker
“The Intimates astutely captures the transitional temper of [post-grad] time . . . In Mr. Sassones rapturous details of still-ripening bodies, theres something of Tom Wolfes very sexual 2004 novel I Am Charlotte Simmons . . . The essence of [sexual] ‘after-school adventures—the kernel of the carnal—remains a secret in Mr. Sassones world, even as it is the centrifugal force pulling his characters through the pages. Later, as Mazie and Robbie discuss sex . . . they talk around this mystery, clearly frightened by its aura . . . The novels language of desire is perversely dead-on. It also illustrates the fear that lurks behind our so-called straight talk about sex. All this is fascinating stuff.” —The Economist
“With The Intimates, Sassone has created a friendship so deep, so utterly believable, that you feel jealous of Maize and Robbies closeness—and of Sassones easy talent.” —Mark Peikert, NY Press
“Sassone unfolds their [his main characters] parallel coming-of-age stories—the inevitable romantic fumblings and sexual awakenings, the ugly apartments and awful first jobs—with a delicate, melancholy knowingness.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The Intimates showcases a frank and charming portrait of unconventional love . . . As our heroes stumble through the revolving door of lovers, jobs and (in Maizes case) haircuts, a fascinating character study emerges.” —Monica Riese, The Austin Chronicle
“Maize and Robbie are immensely likeable and engaging and the novel, Sassones first, is full of dry, subtle humor . . . The sex is vivid and erotic . . . Recommended for all fiction readers.” —Library Journal
“Sassones first novel explores the devastating emotional craters of first love, with its intense, irrational desire and long, immobile dry spells, and the bumpy, baffling relations between the generations.” —TheRumpus.net
“An immensely readable debut novel . . . [Sassone] 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.” —Poornima Apte, MostlyFiction.com
“I loved this beautiful, serious book. Not enough fiction has been written about friendship, and to see this significant part of human experience dealt with so expertly and so passionately is cause for celebration. Maize and Robbie are as memorable as people I might actually have known and not just read about. I found The Intimates deeply romantic, and smart about everything that really matters.” —Sigrid Nunez, author of Salvation City
“A meticulous, devastating chiaroscuro portrait of stifled longing.” —Mary Gaitskill, author of Dont Cry
“With The Intimates, Ralph Sassone has written a deeply appealing novel about friendship, love, and the passage of time. I enjoyed it enormously.” —Meg Wolitzer, author of The Ten-Year Nap
“This stunning novel is about sexual awakening and every permutation of its transformative powers. Sassone has found the magic to convey the urgency, headiness, and mystery of youth in prose laden with humor and wisdom. The Intimates is a brilliant debut.” —Jill Ciment, author of Heroic Measures
“Ralph Sassones evocative and, in places, vividly erotic debut novel tells the story of Maize and Robbie, following their friendship—and their romances with others—from high school, through college, and into roommate-hood in NYC as they enter the wider world. Its sensitive, funny, and poignantly well-observed.” —Barnes & Noble Review
“[The Intimates] delve[s] into eroticism with originality and taste . . . [and with] near-perfect pitch. Reading [it] . . . will enrich your musings on friendship, family, and the many flavors of love.” —Anne Pyburn Craig, Chronogram
“Exceptional first-time novelist Sassones lost characters are enticingly conflicted and acidly funny as they navigate painful predicaments . . . Add to that inventive metaphors, an ability to write about sex with unusual insight, and keen understanding of the nature of ambivalence . . . Sassone dramatizes the elusiveness of maturity, ‘the unruliness of existence, and our habit of hiding our true selves, especially from ourselves.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Charming.” —Publishers Weekly
A powerful and compassionate debut novel about friendship and how it helps shape us into the people we are
Spanning years and continents, beginnings and ends, The Intimates is about how Maize and Robbie, two smart and striving people, discover themselves in thereflection they see in each other, and how their connection comes to define their place in the world. It is about the near-romantic intensity of passionate young friendship; the vexed yet unshakable bonds between children and parents; the mesmerizing thrall of sex and the false illusions that are part of its spell; the thrills and disappointments of becoming an adult; the exhilarating prospect of restarting your life repeatedly and the limits of personal reinvention; and the secrets we hide from others and ourselves as we struggle to find our true character.
The Intimates is about Maize and Robbie, who meet in high school and hold fast to each other as they stumble through amorous adventures, first jobs, and complicated relationships with family members here and abroad. It is a powerful and compassionate debut novel that explores the romance of young friendship, the freighted bonds between parents and children, and the thrills and mesmerizing illusions of sex. Lovely, perceptive, funny, and vividly erotic, in The Intimates, "Sassone has created a friendship so deep, so utterly believable, that you feel jealous of Maize and Robbies closeness---and of Sassones easy talent" (New York Press).
About the Author
Ralph Sassone has an M.F.A. from Brown University. He has written and edited for a number of publications including The New York Times, The Village Voice Literary Supplement, and Details, and he has taught writing at Brown, Haverford College, and Vassar. He lives in New York City. The Intimates is his first novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. The Intimates features a pattern of mistaken identities in its first two parts and a distinct pattern of thefts in its third and final section. Do you think that these patterns are related? If so, how?
2. Although there are only a handful of sex scenes in The Intimates, taking up no more than fifteen pages total, a number of reviewers commented on the books eroticism. Did you find this books sex scenes more noteworthy—more explicit or carnal—than those in other novels youve read? Do you think Sassone was trying to make a point about desire in general and youthful desire in particular?
3. The Intimates is a book that puts the friendship of its two main characters, Maize and Robbie, at the center of the narrative. Can you name other adult (as opposed to childrens or young adult) novels where friendship is a primary focal point? If so, which of them might be models for Sassones book?
4. Although Maize and Robbie clearly see themselves as best friends and each others “human diaries,” they nevertheless withhold certain important facts or experiences from each other, e.g., Maizes infatuation with her college counselor and Robbies stalking of his fathers mistress through the streets of Rome. Is this consistent with your own view of a best friendship? Are these characters hiding important things from themselves as well?
5. One irony in The Intimates is that Maize and Robbie feel more comfortable in the presence of their stepparents than they do their birth parents. By including this unusual element, what do you think Sassone is saying about the nature of parent-child bonds?
6. Its a cliché that opposites attract in romantic relationships. Can the same be said of close friendships like Maize and Robbies in The Intimates? In what ways are these two characters opposite? In what ways similar? Would it be accurate to describe their friendship as a romance?
7. In The Intimates, an eligible single man and an attractive single woman are extremely close to each other without having a sexual relationship. Could their bond be described as a romance? How realistic do you think it is to maintain such a relationship after more conventional romances present themselves to such characters?
8. Maizes mischievous and irreverent high school friend Lyla is juxtaposed with Maizes square, college-obsessed friend Jayne as well as with as the beautiful and popular cheerleader Bethany Campbell. Which of these three young women has the most lasting influence on Maize? Did you find it believable that Maize would be friendly with all three of these very different personalities?
9. Maizes furtive infatuation with Hal Jamesley is the first of several inappropriate couplings and unseemly liaisons in The Intimates. What are the others? What do these couplings suggest about this authors view of romantic love?
10. At one point Maize reads the work of a secular philosopher who contends that “In moments of great swollen emotion—anger or joy or passion—we become someone else . . . who makes our normal self seem a ghostly shadow by comparison” (20). Do you agree with that notion? Does The Intimates seem to confirm it or contradict it?
11. As best friends, confidantes, classmates, and roommates, Maize and Robbie are the most obvious intimates in this novel. Who are some of the other intimates the book title refers to, and how do they affect Maize and Robbies intimate relationship with each other?
12. When Maize and Robbie spy on the suburban family who live down the street from Robbies mother, Maize has a fantasy about them that reveals something about herself. If Robbie were to have his own fantasy about the family, what do you imagine it would be?
13. Toward the end of the novel, the character Eli seems to be the first man—besides Robbie—wholl break through Maizes emotional shell and, perhaps, have a serious romantic relationship with her. If that turns out to be the case, why is Eli more capable of becoming Maizes boyfriend than other men? Is it something about Eli himself that opens this possibility, or is it just a question of good timing?
14. Toward the end of the book, during a heated argument, Daniel accuses Robbie of holding “that poor girl [Maize] back.” Does that strike you as a fair accusation, or do you disagree with it?
15. Maize is unemployed and nearly broke at the end of the book. If you had to predict a future career for her, based on the evidence in the novel, what would be your best guess?
16. At the beginning of The Intimates and the very end, Maize stares at her reflection in a dark glass. How is the image she sees at opposite ends of the narrative similar, and how is it different? How did your own perceptions of this character—and of her friend Robbie—change over the course of the book?