The Intimates
Ralph Sassone
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Buy *The Intimates* by Ralph Sassone online

The Intimates
Ralph Sassone
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
256 pages
February 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Sassone’s poetic story is about the deep bonds of friendship, the power of love, and the lengths that people will go to find a place in the world. Moving through the time and transporting us from Rome to Connecticut, The Intimates churns with desire as it plunges us into the lives of Maize and Robbie, the author’s troubled, intrepid young heroes.

Friends throughout high school, Maize and Robbie have since taken separate paths, but they’ve managed to keep in touch through college in a relationship that has truly lasted the test of time. Recently reconnecting after a long separation, neither has been able to make peace with the choices they’ve made as their lives have inevitably steamrolled forwards.

Insular, bookish, and a gifted academic, Robbie has spent the last three years holed up in libraries and rare book rooms. He isn’t quite sure why his tempestuous liaison with an older college professor ended so badly. Traveling to Rome to visit his wealthy businessman father, Robbie feels even more skittish than usual. He keeps to himself, barely having the energy to respond to the attentions of Carlo, the beautiful, sexy waiter who brings him room service. Lonely and bored, only Robbie’s long-winded text messages and IM’s to Maize seem to keep him emotionally afloat.

Back in Connecticut, Maize carries her own burdens. She can’t seem to forget her schoolgirl crush on her handsome guidance councilor. She still thinks wistfully of his silky black eyebrows, fierce dark eyes, and his head so filled with exotic things she hadn’t learned. Maize also feels pressured by her status-conscious mother, who “lusts after elite colleges the same way snobs lust after foreign cars.”

Maize’s mother makes no secret of disliking and disapproving Lyla, her daughter’s best friend, whom she sees as derailing Maize’s ambition. It’s not surprising, then, that Maize is drawn to brainy, funny Robbie, each like "a storage unit" for the other’s secrets. This intimacy drives much of Sassone's beautiful novel of confused longing as humor and rage finds Robbie and Maize at a loss at this place and time in life.

The sex in this novel is raw, unfolding like a stage play of life and love. Maize and Robbie's bourgeoning needs "rattle up a maelstrom" of desire. Maize’s focus is blurred and her ambitions scattered when she remembers with horror working for Andre Gilbert, an officious realtor for the wealthy and powerful. At Maize’s mother’s house, Robbie tries in vain to maneuver around Daniel, his current hunky boyfriend, but there's rarely enough reassurance for either as Daniel's critical streak seems to get the better of Robbie.

Flashing between the present and the past, Sassone burrows deep into the interior lives of his two tortured protagonists, allowing is us to fill in the blanks about what has happened to this inseparable twosome. The prose is haunting and melancholy, the perfect platform for this talented author as he unfolds a tour-de-force of youthful passions and disillusionment.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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