The Interestings

Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings
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The Interestings

Meg Wolitzer

“Remarkable … With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself.”- The New York Times Book Review

The Interestings secures Wolitzer’s place among the best novelists of her generation…”-Entertainment Weekly 

On a warm July night in 1974 six teenagers play at being cool. The friendships they make this summer will be the most important and consuming of their lives. In a teepee at summer camp they smoke pot and drink vodka & Tangs, talk of Gunter Grass and the latest cassette tapes; they also share their dreams and ambitions, still so fresh and so possible. But decades later not everyone can sustain in adulthood what had seemed so special in adolescence.


Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, has resigned herself to a more practical occupation; Cathy has stopped dancing; Jonah has laid down his guitar and taken up engineering. Only Ethan’s talent has endured. As their fortunes tilt precipitously over the years, some of them dealing with great struggle, others enjoying extraordinary wealth and success, friendships are put under the strain of envy and crushing disappointment.

Against the backdrop of a changing America, from Nixon’s resignation to Obama’s new world, Wolitzer’s panoramic tragicomedy asks how ‘the Interestings’ can be happy with being anything less than brilliant?

Review

Here, Meg Wolitzer has given us a delicious, utterly absorbing novel of epic scope, concerning six characters who meet as teenagers in 1974 at an exclusive summer arts camp. They ironically refer to themselves as ‘the interestings’, and we follow them through the years as they reach middle-age, shifting from youths who dream of being extraordinary adults, into adults who, for the most part, still cling to the same dream.

Sitting easily within the tradition of other big contemporary American authors – there is something Eugenides-Franzen-esque at play here, though Wolitzer has a sense of humour and skewed perspective of characters that is completely her own – The Interestings takes a hard look at that grand American narrative of self-invention and asks, is that all just myth?

Jules, the character who sits at the heart of the novel, is the outsider of the group; she’s granted a bunk at Spirit-in-the-Woods summer camp due to special circumstances, and from the beginning, knows she’s less glamorous than her peers. If this story followed the typical trajectory of the self-invention story, she would no doubt be the one who attains fame and success through hard work.

But Jules recognises early that she doesn’t have what’s needed to be an actress, and settles, begrudgingly, into mediocrity. Instead, the most successful of the group is Ethan Figman – a genius at animation who develops his own hit television series – but even his success is tempered by other elements in his life, most notably, a failure to connect with his son. The other’s own successes either come at a price, or don’t come at all, and jealousies and deceit play a key role here as the friends compare their lives.

Throughout the novel, Jules continually questions where her life is at, and struggles to understand how those teenagers from Spirit-in-the-Woods are one and the same as the adults she knows now. At one point, frustrated with her attitude, Jules’ husband – a self-professed ordinary man – asks of her, ‘Most people aren’t talented. So what are they supposed to do – kill themselves?’ A terrific novel that I couldn’t put down.


Bronte Coates is the Online & Readings Monthly Assistant. She is a co-founder of literary project, Stilts.

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