Book Review: The Interestings

The-Interestings-by-Meg-Wolitzer

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They all seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness-in-waiting.

It’s going to be hard to put my love for this novel into words (and putting things into words is something I supposedly do well…)

It was definitely not the flap copy of this book that drew me in. This is a literary novel in the truest sense of the word. It’s about a group of kids who meet at a summer camp in the 1970s, and it follows them all, some more closely than others, as they grow up and move into middle age. That about sums up the plot.

But oh, “The Interestings” is so much more. I was drawn in from the first page, by the wry awkwardness that is Jules Jacobson, to the homely genius that is Ethan Figman. The full cast of characters was well-rounded, but it was these two that tugged on my heartstrings and didn’t let go for the rest of the book. They were the ones who kept me reading.

The thing I loved best was how truthful this book was. It was the anti-romantic comedy. No perfect relationships, no fortuitous twists of fate, no neat resolutions. Just a raw, honest look into these people’s lives and how they grow and change over time.

Everything is going to move farther and farther away from what feels familiar. I read somewhere that most of the really intense feelings you’ll ever feel take place right around our age. And everything that comes afterward is going to feel more and more diluted and disappointing.

I generally find adolescence to be the most interesting part of one’s life (which is why I became a YA writer). But the further away I move from my teenage years in my own life, the more I understand that those fears and uncertainties don’t necessarily go away; they morph into other things. You can be sixteen and plan on becoming a great writer (or artist or dancer or actress) but as you get older and you don’t become one of those things, what is the point at which you give up and do something else? And what does that make you?

This question is especially prominent for Jules, since she has to watch her best friends, Ethan and Ash, become everything they’d wanted to be, while she gives up acting to become a therapist.

What’s more, she sees the live she could have had … if only things had gone a little differently.

That’s why meeting in childhood can seem like it’s the best thing—everyone’s equal, and you form bonds based on only how much you like each other. But later on, having met in childhood can turn out to have been the worst thing, because you and your friends might have nothing to say to each other anymore, except, ‘Wasn’t it funny that time in tenth grade when your parents came home and we were so wasted?’

But while constantly assessing her own life in comparison with that of her friends’, something happens which forces Jules to reassess. There are so many things that can go right in life, and so many things that can go wrong. Where do you draw the line between being grateful for what you have and striving for more? (A question I’ve struggled with myself.)

Just give me what we had, she heard herself thinking, or maybe saying. It’s enough now.

The novel hops around in time a bit, which I first found confusing, but Wolitzer makes it work. She lets you know up front how Jules’s life is turning out, then goes back and delves deeper into the specific happenings that made her the way she was.

She didn’t know if she was happy yet; she really had no idea.

There are a few quibbles I had with this novel. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the other characters as much as I did Jules and Ethan, and therefore whenever I got to a longer Jonah section I found myself less engaged. Also, I felt the ending was a little rushed–I didn’t quite understand Jules’ motivation for that late-in-life career decision she makes.

But ultimately what made this book great was the characters.

It became a secret phase that referred not only to this specific event, but to any misguided action that a person might perform in life out of longing or weakness or fear, or pretty much out of anything human.

These characters were so flawed. So human. And I loved them for it.

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