Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.
Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.
Ethan, Ash, and her brother Goodman, Jonah and Cathy are five privileged friends who have been attending Camp Spirit-In-The-Woods for years. It’s a camp for artistically gifted kids and the friends only half-jokingly call themselves The Interestings. One summer, they accept a girl new to the camp into their little circle. Julie, renamed Jules by the group because it sounds cooler, is there on scholarship. Her father just died and she needed a distraction.
The six teens are the best of friends, even keeping in touch and visiting each other throughout the rest of the year. As they grow up and outgrow camp, their friendships are tested. Members betray other members. Some find success as the artists they wanted to be, while others must choose, or settle for, different career paths.
The Interestings raises several interesting questions. (See what I did there?) What is a friend’s obligation to you if they are significantly better off financially than you? What should your expectations be? Is it ever okay to keep secrets from a friend? What about your spouse? If one member of the group hurts another, should the remaining members shun him or her? Or is it none of their business?
The characters are well-developed and multi-dimensional. I think I both loved and hated each of them in turn. Well, there was one that I didn’t ever like. You’ll know which one when you read it.
I love it when a novel has great characters that I get to follow from their youth into middle age or beyond. The Interestings is one of those sweeping stories.