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?