Monday, April 2, 2012

The Intimates, by Ralph Sassone

Lately it often seems like all I do is work and commute, and when I get up before 6 and ride the subway for over an hour, sometimes all I have the energy to do is listen to podcasts, or sometimes not even that, just endless Neutral Milk Hotel and Magnetic Fields (who I'm going to see tomorrow!). But I did read another Jhumpa Lahiri collection (Unaccustomed Earth, which, like Interpreter of Maladies, saves the best for last), and now I'm almost done with The Intimates, a novel about teenage and early 20-something best friends.

The weirdest thing about The Intimates, which took me forever to diagnose, is that it's supposed to be set in the present, but feels like it's set in the past. It goes along feeling like I'm not sure when, mid 90s or so, then all of a sudden it'll be like "Robbie wanted to send Maize a *text message*" like see, we're all modern now, I used the term "text message." Every now and then someone pulls a cell phone out of a bag, which isn't even the right way to say it. Say she pulled her phone out. If it's in her purse, it's not a land line phone. Compounding this, the main characters live in Chelsea when they're broke recent Brown grads. This is quickly explained away with oh they were excited to find a cheap place there and not in Bushwick or Inwood but they should have been in Bushwick or Inwood. Crappy tenement housing in Chelsea for 22 year olds? 90s, at least.

Also Brown University is never identified, either. Robbie just goes to college in "Rhode Island" and Maize studies semiotics. What is gained by not just saying they're at Brown? Semiotics is 100 percent identified with Brown University. The alumni of that program include Jeffrey Eugenides, Rick Moody, and most famously to my mind, Ira Glass. I don't know what number of people read non-best-selling novels, but I'm going to guess that the Venn diagram with "people who picked up The Intimates at their local independent bookseller" and "people who know they're at Brown once the word 'semiotics' is bandied about" has a whole lot of overlap. What could be the point of the omission? Either say that's where they are or go to the trouble of making up a fictional place.

All this adds up to, the events in this book don't belong anywhere in time or place.

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