Intimacy Summary (Susan Chace)

Susan Chace


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although this is a first novel, the author is by no means the typical first novelist with a new bachelor’s degree and a minimum of real-life experience. Susan Chace has obviously done a lot of living. In recent years she has been working as a staff reporter for FORBES and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. She has waited a long time to try her hand at fiction but now seems ready to spread her wings. INTIMACY is the kind of autobiographical lament a writer needs to get out of his or her system before going on to more disciplined fictional endeavors. Chace is worth watching because she has that most important asset of a good novelist, her own distinctive voice.

Cecelia, the novel’s heroine, is an intellectual but more of a follower than a doer. Caught up in the activism of the later 1960’s, she is dragged off to bleak Arizona by her new physician-husband, who intends to “practice medical and social justice.” With time on her hands in this unlettered environment, she gets into an affair with her husband’s brother. The “intimacy” referred to in the book’s title is something she is wishing for rather than something she ever finds.

When her first child comes along, she is even more lonely and isolated. Both her husband and her lover leave her in the dust as they ride off to tilt at their separate windmills. Drink, drudgery, and finally divorce gradually strip her of all illusions, particularly the illusion that other people can make you happy. The responsibility of motherhood is like a compass that guides her through the storm. After she has lost virtually everything but the hard inner core of her own identity, she finds she is willing to make a deal with life on lower terms.

Chace’s style has the texture of experience and maturity. She is wry, witty, cynical, and courageous--a person whom the reader would like to know. “I think the way life works,” she writes in her final chapter, “is that you start out thinking you’re going to climb straight up into the light. Then somehow you conclude that the light at the top is too bright, in fact would probably kill you if you stepped into it ... After that showdown, you arrange to keep busy by traveling laterally--back and forth between darkening and lightening grays.”