Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011, $24
One More Stop
Arcadia, 2010, $16.95
The romantic lives of our parents are often shrouded in such mystery that we see only the haziest outlines, interpreting and misinterpreting them through memories formed before we experience the urges that would make the truth comprehensible. If our parents hadn’t made love, they would never have made us, yet the circumstances are seldom explained and often complex.
Ralph Sassone’s The Intimates and Lois Walden’s One More Stop explore the ways in which parental love lives, missteps, and complications reverberate into the lives of the next generation. The protagonists—adult children of shattered marriages— twist in the wind, experiencing numbness in places where they long to feel intimacy.
The Intimates explores the early adult lives of best friends Robbie and Maize, from high school—when a fumbling makeout session left them close friends—through early jobs and relationships. He’s gay, she’s not. Despite or because of this, their connection deepens into the simplest and strongest in either one’s world. Neither can open up romantically, and vivid vignettes of parental disconnection offer clues about why. Maize’s stepfather, Bruce, the most positive adult in her young life, was excised from her world with near-surgical precision by her hypercritical mother; years later, her mother asks almost hopefully if he was ever “inappropriate.” Robbie’s parents divorced bitterly; when he finally meets his father’s lover in Rome, he finds himself preferring her to either of his parents, but knows, sadly, that he will never allow himself the luxury of her friendship.
The feisty, passionate heroine of One More Stop is Loli, a gypsy artist-in-residence who wanders small towns teaching writing to teenagers. She travels light, while toting the crushing baggage of her mother’s suicide. Her parents’ marriage appears to have been a cold and chaotic mess. Her 20-year arm’s-length relationship with an alluring, chilly Frenchwoman leaves her desperately dissatisfied. It’s only an eventful residency in a small Nebraska town that bears her mother’s name—Beatrice—and the knowledge shared by the surviving adult involved in a parental love triangle that, with the aid of a gifted therapist, stimulates Loli’s bud of inner strength into bloom.
Woodstock-based singer, actress, and teaching artist Walden brings us deep inside Loli’s head, not an easy place—her mother has an eerie tendency to show up in there singing nursery rhymes, and Loli’s memories yank her around like a marionette. She’s hilarious and generous and can work a classroom full of teenage malcontents like Silly Putty. The reader rejoices as she finally struggles her way toward stability and, perhaps, lasting love—although Walden makes no promises on the latter question.
The Intimates alternates between the internal realities of Robbie and Maize, both of whom are better company than they realize themselves. Having a close friend of the opposite sex who’s also of the other orientation becomes a safe harbor and a magnifying mirror through which to view their conquests and tribulations.
Both novels delve into eroticism with originality and taste. And both Walden and Sassone, a part-time resident of Annandale-on-Hudson and onetime teacher at Vassar, have near-perfect pitch. Reading either of these enticing novels—or both back to back—will enrich your musings on friendship, family, and the many flavors of love.
2011 Lambda Award nominee Lois Walden will appear at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, 5/14 at 7:30pm.