THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer

Judging by the comments on my Facebook page when I posted that I was starting The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, this book inspires strong feelings – positive and negative. Quite a few people said that they were eager to read my review. Clearly this book touched a nerve among a lot of my friends! So, here goes.


I am in the positive feelings camp. I really liked The Interestings. It’s about a group of teenagers who meet at an artsy summer camp in the 70s, and it follows them through their adult lives to the present day. The Interestings (a mostly-ironic name they give themselves on the first night of camp) are made up of Jules, an awkward girl from New Jersey who is funny but intimidated by and self-conscious around her wealthy NY campmates; Ash and Goodman, diametrically opposite brother and sister from a wealthy family; Ethan, a talented but unattractive and awkward animation student; Jonah, a closeted teenager with a famous folk-singer mom; and Cathy Kiplinger, an emotionally needy dancer. For Jules, her unexpected inclusion in the Interestings is life-changing. Her world completely changes when Ethan and Ash take her under their wing, broadening it from her quiet, depressing suburban life to include the gleaming expanse of Ash’s family and New York City.

A few years pass, and the Interestings fracture and winnow down to four, who will remain in each other’s lives for the following 40 years. And during those years, life happens to them. Some are financially successful, some are not. Some partner, some don’t. Longstanding passions remain below the surface, secrets are kept and truths withheld. Health (mental and physical) waxes and wanes. Parents die or become estranged. Children are born – some perfect and some not. These lives aren’t necessarily remarkable, but I did find them interesting, yes, and I grew quite fond of these characters over 450+ pages. I thought Wolitzer did a particularly good job with dealing with Jules’ envy of Ethan’s monetary success, a theme that threads throughout the whole book.

I am trying to guess at what might have irritated some people who read this book – too long? Too sweeping (with big chunks of time unaddressed)? Forrest Gump-y? Characters too whiny? There were a few unrealistic storylines, and some  too-convenient-to-be-believable plot turns that weakened the credibility of the book for me. But I am a fan of Wolitzer’s hyper-detailed writing style. I like the way she covers so much territory in her books. It’s like she looks at modern life through a magnifying glass and includes every little detail she can see within the perimeter of the circle. The Interestings was a faster read for me than The Ten Year Nap (reviewed in 2009) and a much more fulfilling one than The Uncoupling (reviewed in 2011). I just really enjoyed the experience of reading it and getting to know these characters.

In my opinion, The Interestings‘ acclaim is merited. It’s near the top of my list of favorite books so far in 2013. So, EDIWTB readers, which camp are you in? Did you love The Interestings, or did it disappoint you?

 

13 Comments

  • September 9, 2013 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    This book certainly is dividing readers. I bet it’d be great for book clubs.

  • Liza
    September 9, 2013 - 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m in the “I liked it, but…” camp. I like Wolitzer’s voice and details. I could really envision any environment she created- the muggy camp tents, the drab NYC walk-up apartment, the chic sushi restaurant, etc. These narrative details were great. For me, I think it comes down to Jules. I understood her, but I’m not sure I liked her very much. As she was our main voice in the novel, it was hard not to grow weary of her constant whining and envy. All that said, I cared about most of the characters and I was curious about what was going to happen to them as the novel unfolded. It was a good summer read.

    • gayle
      September 9, 2013 - 5:11 pm | Permalink

      I hear you – Jules was pretty unlikeable at times. I guess I could still relate to her in some ways – she didn’t feel like a totally foreign type to me.

    • September 10, 2013 - 4:58 am | Permalink

      Having just listened to an interview Elaine Charles (Book report radio show – see archived version on their website) had with Meg this past weekend, I want to propose that the whiney bit of Jules’ character was in fact part and parcel of Wolitzer’s character. I think anybody who has ever involved themselves with a little self-analyzing will be able to sympathize. Having said that, I also get annoyed at myself for entertaining envious thoughts.

  • September 9, 2013 - 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t care too much for another book she wrote but I chalked it up to bad timing. That book was The Uncoupling. This one seems more like something I’d enjoy and I have it, in THREE different formats. You’d think I’d be reading it by now, right?

    • gayle
      September 9, 2013 - 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I liked this one much better than The Uncoupling.

  • September 10, 2013 - 6:12 am | Permalink

    I’m in the really liked it a lot camp. The characters were very real to me and I thought Wolitzer had the period details down pat. I’m not sure what turned people off.

  • September 11, 2013 - 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Okay, it’s now on my list but having just finished the almost 600-page “The Son”, I think it will have to wait until I plough through some shorter reads!

  • September 14, 2013 - 10:21 pm | Permalink

    This does seem to be a very divided group. I’ll have to give this a try and see which side I fall on.

  • November 5, 2013 - 9:26 am | Permalink

    I’m reading it now and popped over here to see what you had to say. About two hundred pages in, I’m still ambivalent about it. I think a large part of it is Jules. Her deep friendship with Ash has stuck me as odd since the beginning and I’m surprised it’s lasted into adulthood, but I suppose I’ve yet to see how it plays out in the long term. So far, I think Ethan is the most interesting of the bunch.

    I recently finished The End of Your Life Book Club, which I really enjoyed. It’s made me want to pick up books/close down my laptop more often.

    • November 5, 2013 - 12:30 pm | Permalink

      It’s always a good idea to close the laptop and pick up a book. I try to remind myself of that every night!

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