Intimacy Issues

Pointing out that critics have called the new Alice McDermott novel “beautifully intimate,” “small, rich, [and] intimate,” and “intimate, elegant, and beautifully crafted,” Alexander Nazaryan begs reviewers to step away from the I-word:

Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel, The Lowland, is written with attention to “intimate detail,” according to The Guardian. In The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates says that Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselvesprovides an intimate, child’s-eye look at a midwestern academic household of the 1980s” – presumably, a vantage point desired by readers. The New York Times Book Review says that Stephen King’s Joyland is narrated with an “intimate quality.” Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds, about the war in Iraq, is to be praised for its “intimacy,” according to The Seattle Times. …

“Intimate,” as I understand its usage in contemporary criticism, means “small.” … [McDermott’s] Someone could be a fantastic work of fiction, but the frequent reference to “intimacy” does not do the novel any favors, implying, not only a smallness of setting or overall scope, but a far more fatal smallness of ideas. This, in the end, is the problem with “intimate” fiction – the emphasis, that is, on the novel as a warm blanket to cuddle with instead of a fire that burns clean through you. Intimate reading is reading for comfort, instead of all that good stuff – beauty, truth, wisdom — that we no longer acknowledge seeking without ironic air quotes. Intimacy is too nice for any of that.