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April 25, 2013

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

the-interestings“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”–George Eliot, Middlemarch

“And didn’t it always go like that–body parts not quite lining up the way you wanted them to, all of it a little bit off, as if the world itself were an animated sequence of longing and envy and self-hatred and grandiosity and failure and success, a strange and endless cartoon loop that you couldn’t stop watching, because, despite all you knew by now, it was still so interesting.” –Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is so absolutely full of stuff, of the world, loud with that roar which lies on the other side of silence. Within the novel, we find echoes of its literary contemporaries–recent books like The Marriage Plot and Arcadia–and also more distant 19th century relations. And also the kind of stuff that fills up newspapers and magazines, cover-story “issues” like autism, gifted children, grief, depression, marriage, divorce, rape, third-world child labour, unemployment, and motherhood. So that on one hand, I can tell you that this is the story of a group of friends who meet at summer camp and whose ties grow and change during the decades that follow. But it’s also about the history of the last thirty years in New York and America. It’s about what it means to live history, and how characters change with their times. It’s about the democratic and egalitarian nature of youth, when friends could be duped into believing that they all have the same potential, that there is such thing as a level playing field, that it all comes down to talent and drive. Before it’s discovered that talent is mere, that being extraordinary is rare, and that factors such as money, connections, pedigree, physical and mental health, love, children, and luck come to define the path that a lifetime takes, and that those paths can lead in surprising directions.

At the centre of the story is Jules Jacobson, attending camp at Spirit of the Woods on a scholarship, perplexed and thrilled to find herself part of a circle of individuals who define themselves as “interesting”. She’s an outsider among them, yet she’s curiously accepted, which changes the way she sees herself. When the summer ends and she returns home to her family in suburbia, suddenly everything is mere, and the future (and the city) beckons in a way it never had before. She becomes part of the orbit of Ash and Goodman Wolf, brother and sister with inordinate privilege, is embraced into their family with the other “Interestings”: Jonah Bay, son a famous folksinger who squanders his own musical talent; Cathy, the dancer whose body has other plans for her; and Ethan Figman, whose talent for animation will catapult him to superstardom. The story moves through these different characters’ perspectives, and yet Jules remains its focus and we find her years later receiving Ash and Ethan’s annual Christmas newsletter (they eventually become a couple) with its extraordinary reports of their happenings, and being torn between love and hatred for her friends, contentment with her own more quotidian life and pure envy.

The structure of The Interestings is fascinating, the novel weaving back and forth through time without great shifts, effortless for the reader to follow and seemingly effortless for the writer too, though I can’t imagine that this was really the case. And yes, it is so interesting, a book so terrific to be absorbed in and whose end (at page 468) arrives too soon.

One thought on “The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer”

  1. Tanya says:

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this one. I think it is going to be the book of the summer.

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