The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I’m drawn to novels about friendships and about reinventing yourself whether through desire or necessity. Therefore, when I heard about the premise of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, I knew I had to read the book. Wolitzer’s ambitious storyline following one group of friends from the early 70s to present time does not disappoint.
The Interestings begins with six teenagers (a mix of guys and girls) meeting at a special summer camp for “artsy” teenagers. These kids are all certain, at that point in their lives, that a creative future awaits each one of them. Two are into acting; one is a dancer; one boy, Ethan, is already talented in the area of animation; and another member of the group is a musician with a famous folk-singing mom. They name themselves “The Interestings” and remain in each other’s lives through the scope of the novel, which takes us to present time when the characters are in their 50s.
As the timeline bounces between the present and the past, we see that most of the characters’ goals get more realistic as adult responsibilities take center stage. Furthermore, some members of the group realize they are not as special and talented as their parents, counselors, or friends may have led them to believe. These characters are forced to continually redefine success. They must ask themselves what it means to “make it” in their careers, or succeed as a spouse, a sibling, a friend? The answer is different and ever-changing for each character just as it is for each reader.
Wolitzer gives us Jules, the least artistically talented of the group, as the central character to follow although we follow other characters as well. Jules is the closest to both Ethan and Ash, the power couple of the group who reach the highest, celebrity level of financial success. Jules is also the most self-aware and self-conscious in general. She’s so connected to this one group of friends and influenced by their life choices that she alienates her husband Dennis from time to time. Dennis becomes the reminder in this particular story that “regular” people can be interesting, too; that not everyone is enamored by artists, creative types, or even the concept of celebrity.
During an argument between Dennis and Jules about her dedication to the group, he says:
“‘They’re not that interesting.'”
“‘I never said they were.'”
“‘That’s all you said. And I was the good-natured husband. And it’s still not enough for you, you’re still there with them, so much more invested in their story than you are in ours.'”
That last line hit home as did so many others throughout this book. Even after 500 pages I didn’t want it to end. Like Jules, I felt invested in this group and wanted to stay with them longer.
You want to talk about The Interestings when you’re finished, which is why I’m hoping some of you have already read it so we can discuss it here. Was there a character you related to the most? Did you feel as wrapped up in the storylines and the friendships as I did? Come back and chime in when you’re finished reading!