With Ralph Sassone’s first novel, the story attempts to show the delicate intricacies between friendship and romance between a gay man, Robbie, and a straight woman, Maize. Since it is understood that their relationship will not be sexual in nature, the narrative then shifts to show how “romance” goes beyond physical intimacy.

Except it is not that simple.

This novel illustrates how the presentation of the narrative can color how the reader interprets the relationship between its main characters. Unfortunately for Sassone, the major criticism of this novel is the detached narration, leaving the reader to wonder how and why exactly the main characters are as close as the story claims them to be.

While I read, all I could find myself thinking is that this novel commits one of the biggest sins of creative writing: it tells, not shows. Because of the third person narrative, this detachment leads the reader to apathy about the characters and their actions. Also, there are so many large time skips that many of the pivotal moments in character development are told in awkwardly placed and short flashbacks.

Something as simple as a change in point of view (the first person instead of the third person) could eliminate the disengaging narration and turn it into an active narration. One way this could have been achieved would have been to make Robbie and Maize the narrator of each other’s parts. This would allow for their voices to be heard and give them the opportunity to show, not tell, the reader what Robbie and Maize see in each other without being force-fed the extraneous details in the narrative.

If there is one aspect where Sassone succeeds in his writing, it is in the descriptions of emotional yet abbreviated moments of intimate situations. With Maize, the loss of her virginity and her ambivalent narration of the act was one of the few moments when I felt engaged as a reader. Another instance of a beautifully written sense of vulnerability is between Robbie and his father, where their distance and subsequent reunion is as though the reader is looking at a photo frozen in time.

In those few pages, Sassone intertwines physical intimacy with the internal conflict of emotions masterfully. I just wish he could have applied that same level of detail into showing the depth of Maize and Robbie’s relationship, besides simply stating that they are best friends.

As a result, the potential for a stimulating narrative between the blurring line between friendship and romance between people of opposite sex and opposite sexual orientation is present, but the execution leaves much to be desired.

The Intimates
by Ralph Sassone
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Hardcover, 9780374176976, 256pp
February 2011


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  • Lou Kief

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