* * * 3/4
Naomi and Ethan will test the boundaries of love in this provocative romance from the author of the ground-breaking debut, The Roommate.
Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won't hire her.
Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag named him one of the city's hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Taking a gamble in an effort to attract more millennials to the faith, the executive board hired Ethan because of his nontraditional background. Unfortunately, his shul is low on both funds and congregants. The board gives him three months to turn things around or else they'll close the doors of his synagogue for good.
Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems--until they discover a new one--their growing attraction to each other. They've built the syllabus for love's latest experiment, but neither of them expected they'd be the ones putting it to the test.
Source: NetGalley; ARC provided generously by publisher in exchange for an honest review
I enjoyed reading The Roommate last year (has it really been a year already?) and so was happy to jump into The Intimacy Experiment. One of the things I liked about The Roommate was I thought it presented a perspective on sex and sex workers that I hadn't considered before. The Intimacy Experiment continues to do that, but this time with added focus on how female sex workers are treated outside of the industry.
Naomi is now co-CEO of Shameless, the startup she runs with Clara from The Roommate. It's been wildly successful and now Naomi wants to take it to the next level by teaching in-person classes on sexuality. The problem is that no serious institution will hire her because of her "scandalous" past career. She is offered an opportunity at a networking event by the unlikeliest of people - a rabbi.
Rabbi Ethan needs to grow the size of his shul's congregation and he's thinking outside the box by asking Naomi to present a several weeks-long course of sexuality and dating. She thinks it's a ridiculous idea at first but then changes her mind. There's something so sincere about the rabbi's desire to appeal to a younger demographic and also address the matters that they care about. Ethan feels strongly that sex and religion can coexist spiritually.
Yes, this is all so weird and eyebrow-raising but Naomi has never been one to decline a challenge. She and Ethan are an unlikely pair and while tension builds up between them, it's a little slow burn before anything actually happens. Naomi might be tough as nails but she's not one to allow herself to be vulnerable. Ethan is just such a good guy, almost too good. He's so accepting and non-judgey about people in general, so he's not put off by Naomi's past. If anything, the more he's around her, the more he sees the uphill struggle she faces everyday to be taken seriously, or simply to be treated respectfully.
The more I think about it the more I realize that I was more attracted to the religious aspect than the romance. I know next to nothing about Judaism and so I naturally found Ethan's spirituality and philosophy interesting. There were a couple concepts that were referred to that made such perfect sense and hit me on a meaningful level. What I leaned in to most was that religion as Ethan was using it was not used to cast away or condemn but rather to include and uplift. Anyway, being that both the religion, and how it was being interpreted here were new to me, I was drawn to it.
I questioned one detail in the plot. Naomi is such a resourceful, take action person that it's puzzling why she wanted to teach in traditional institutions instead of creating her own programming and presenting it at a venue of her choice. All I could guess at is that while she claims not to want people's approval, she probably does crave it just a little, and all her hard work and higher learning needs to have been worthwhile.
Naomi, however, is impressive. Almost devastatingly so. Her tough exterior and approach to people and things can be abrasive to some but I liked how straightforward she is. One of the things she struggles with is an incident from her long ago past, back before she became an adult film star, that continues to affect her and drive her. Naomi does get to confront that somewhat by the end by stating things matter of factly. I thought it was a powerful moment for her and I think for a lot of women who'd want the bravery and opportunity to do the same. Danan has written an amazing female persona who's so complex, who's wiring is in knots from years of cynicism, self-preservation and punching out, and also shows her vulnerability and trust issues. This comes to the fore in one of the first intimate moments between her and Ethan. It's one of the most tender moments and a heart melter.
I loved The Intimacy Experiment in its parts. As a whole it's good. This is a complicated romance with so many factors inside and out affecting Naomi and Ethan's progress. They're an unlikely coupling but good together and for each other. This is a story that would please anyone looking for something a little unconventional, something that ruffles feathers and shakes things up.
leaked nude pictures in high school resulting in harassment and slut-shaming (Naomi's memories); on page harassment in a bar when a random guy recognizes who Naomi is; Ethan's father's death (memory)