April 12, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Ralph Sassone's debut novel The Intimates is both sensitive and stunning. This story of friendship and intimacy in the post-college years is skillfully told and its characters totally relatable.
BookPage wrote of the book:
"A sensitive rendering of a remarkable friendship...With authenticity and an eye for the subtle machinations that can make or break relationships, Sassone has produced a moving, often funny novel that beautifully reflects the complexities of love."
The Intimates charts the bumpy progress of two characters, Maize and Robbie, from high school to their post-collegiate twenties. As my book's title more than suggests, it is about the close (sometimes uncomfortably close) relations between sexual partners, family members, mentors and protégés, and platonic cohorts like Maize and Robbie—a novel in which friendship provides the only safe harbor from turbulence the protagonists find elsewhere.
The book has three parts. In the first seventeen year old Maize meets Robbie and spends considerable time with two other high school figures: her wild and comparatively promiscuous classmate, Lyla, and an alluringly oddball college counselor named Hal Jamesley. By the second section Maize and Robbie are college juniors and confidantes and Robbie checks in with Maize, frequently, from Rome, where he finds himself stalking his estranged father's beautiful girlfriend. In the final part Maize and Robbie are college graduates and New York City apartment mates, working unfulfilling jobs, helping Robbie's mother pack up her Connecticut house for a move, and enduring acute professional and romantic frustrations.
I'd be lying to say that I played the following songs—or even thought about them—while I was composing The Intimates. The sad truth is that I'm so distractable when I'm writing fiction that I need to shut out everything else for a while, after which a few kind, musically savvier friends take pity on me and share tracks like the ones below.
Except for the Nino Rota, all my Intimates playlist items were chosen largely for their lyrics, which reminded me of my characters' experiences and evoked the forces propelling my novel: lust and ambivalence, ambition and hauntedness, hope and disillusionment, comedy and sadness, and a longing for deep connection that jockeys with a paralyzing fear of it.
The Cure, "Just Like Heaven" and "Lovesong"
The incessant hormonal drives of adolescent romance and sexuality start racing through most teenagers when they are barely qualified to have a learner's permit. These two songs capture the thrill ride and heartbreaking crashes of it all.
Hunters & Collectors, "Throw Your Arms Around Me"
An exhilarating declaration of youthful passion.
Nino Rota, theme song from Fellini's Amarcord
Although Amarcord doesn't take place in Rome, like Fellini's more famous La Dolce Vita, for me this captures Robbie's alternately aimless, skittish, and sinister motions in that city as well as Rome itself, where the shadows just below the surface of things are an inseparable part of its gorgeous texture.
The National, "Secret Meeting"
There are many furtive and charged encounters in my book, but arguably the largest number of them take place inside my characters' heads. I thought of this when I heard The National's reference to "a secret meeting in the basement of my brain."
Feist, "The Park"
Robbie is nothing if not regretful at the end of this section and this song conjures romantic ruefulness—searing pain about loss and the past--piercingly.
Tracy Thorn, "Oh, the Divorces!"
Perfect for a proper introduction of Robbie's mother, a cynic who considers most marriages doomed and fanciful projects at best.
Magnetic Fields, "The Saddest Story Ever Told"
There comes a night when Maize and Robbie drive around their hometown and—more out of boredom than anything—they end up spying on a family currently occupying the house Robbie's mother is soon buying. This wistful tune captures what cannot be quite recaptured: the shining summer nights of one's earlier youth and the person one once was or hoped to be. For Maize it's a little like what Magnetic Fields calls "diving for a girl you'll never find."
Aimee Mann, "Save Me"
Joni Mitchell, "Comes Love"
"Save Me" renders the despair of feeling oneself singularly unmateable. The great Joni Mitchell's sly, sliding cover of the Lew Brown/Sammy Strept/Charles Tobias standard gets at the hopeless surrender that's necessary at the early stages of amorous connection.
"NYC"''s clanking, chaotic dissonance doesn't quite match the quieter and more lyrical tones of The Intimates as a whole. On the other hand, Maize and Robbie are returning to their messy NYC lives in the final pages of the book and they have the same resolve to change that one hears in this song's refrain: "It's up to me now/Turn on the bright lights." So in that sense it's an appropriate ending track.
Ralph Sassone and The Intimates links:
Austin Chronicle review
Boston Globe review
Chronogram Magazine review
Curled Up with a Good Book review
Entertainment Weekly review
Kirkus Reviews review
Library Journal review
New York Press review
New Yorker review
The Rumpus review
Washington Independent Review of Books review
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