THE INTERESTINGS, by Meg Wolitzer, is going to be an important literary novel this season. Writing in the vein of Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen, this, without a doubt, is Meg Wolitzer’s best book!
It’s the 1960’s. Six teens meet while attending an artsy summer camp in Massachusetts. Five of these young adults come from well-off families in NYC. But Julie Jacobson is there on scholarship. Julie becomes Jules when one of her new friends tosses the nickname in the air. And thus begins a friendship that will endure the rest of their lives.
Ethan Goodman is homely, comical, and a gifted cartoonist. He and Jules hit it off right off the bat. But there’s one problem, and it’s a big one: her feelings for him are purely platonic, while he has fallen in love.
Ash Wolf and her brother Goodman are from big money. Both are attending camp to perpetuate their artistic abilities. Ash is a willowy blonde (picture Gwyneth Paltrow). Goodman has the kind of brooding good looks that make women swoon but, he also has a bad-boy side that will be his undoing.
Then there’s Cathy, the bodacious dancer. She will finally realize that her body betrays her on the dance floor.
And Jonah, the son of a famous folk singer. His gift is playing the guitar until his mother’s friend steals his talent away.
This is an ambitious novel. It follows these six characters into middle age, and shows us how envy, talent, class, money, power and love, are at the core of their being. Wolitzer has brilliantly captured the essence of these characters; their fears, their losses, and, finally, their acceptance of who they really are.
Not much is left out. The aids epidemic is tackled, with care and intelligence. Drugs, sex, and alcohol are played with, and played out. Rape becomes a larger than life issue.
Jules becomes a creature eaten up by envy. Envy of her best friends and what they have. Ethan has become astonishingly wealthy and successful when his artistic abilities take him to the nth level. He hits it big with a tv show that goes into syndication. Since he married Ash Wolf ( and what a shock that was), that means two of The Interestings (the name they call themselves) are way above her station in life. Jules has married a very mediocre man who will never make more than a meager living, at best. She gave up on her acting career years ago when she realized she just did not have what it takes. Her second career has launched as a social worker. And through much of the novel Jules is feeling sorry for herself.
The other characters in the story are dealing with their own angst. Talent can and usually is fleeting. Only one of The Interestings truly ends up having any real talent. And Goodman, with all his good looks and suave ways, takes a real dive.
Mental illness becomes a topic when Jules finds that Dennis, her husband, has been struggling with depression most of his life. When he is taken off the meds he’s been on for years, he goes into a funk that spirals downhill for years.
It’s not always the most talented ones who make it to the top in this life. Many times it’s perseverance that prevails. But it’s what you do after the talent subsides that’s the important thing. And how you live your life. And you just might find out that what you envy is not all that appealing, after all.
THE INTERESTINGS, by Meg Wolitzer, is much more than just interesting. It is affecting and wonderful. Tell everyone you know about it. Get your book club involved. This is a big book and everyone is going to be talking about it.
I received my galley from Riverhead. They have some great books out this year. Thanks, guys.