Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: "The Interestings" by Meg Wolitzer

It's often said that the friends you make in childhood may be some of the best friends you'll ever have. As someone who not only has remained close to the first friend I ever made (when I was nearly five years old), but as someone who spent 10 summers at camp in upstate New York, I was tremendously intrigued by Meg Wolitzer's new novel, The Interestings. In the summer of 1974, six teenagers at Spirit-in-the-Woods, an arts camp in Massachusetts, gather together one evening, and dub themselves "The Interestings." For awkward 15-year-old Julie Jacobson, suddenly being accepted into this crowd of beautiful, somewhat talented, and intriguing people finally gives her life purpose, and she realizes that she has a talent for making people laugh.

The three summers that Julie (who now calls herself Jules) and her five friends—ethereally beautiful and intelligent Ash and her cocky, unmotivated brother Goodman; Ethan, the awkward but exceptionally talented cartoonist and animator who becomes enamored with Jules; equally beautiful Jonah, the child of a famed 1970s folk singer who is adrift in the world; and needy, moody Cathy—spend at camp fulfill her more than her boring, suburban life can, and she really only feels satisfied when in the company of the group. And as the group heads to different colleges and pursues different paths into adulthood, Jules finds herself longing for the carefree days of those summers, where the promise of following your talent and your dreams was so much more tantalizing than reality.

The Interestings follows Jules, Ash, Ethan, and Jonah (with peripheral focus on Goodman and Cathy) for nearly 40 years, as they deal with relationship successes and struggles, career highs and lows, the ins and outs of long-term friendships in which some feel more deserving or worthy than others, and the envy that occurs when some of your friends appear to be more successful and lucky than you think you are. Jules, who abandoned her dreams of becoming a successful character actress early on and pursued a career as a therapist, finds happiness married to Dennis, a so-called "regular" guy, but always finds herself longing for and linked to those friendships formed in summer camp.

This is a book about the positive and negative bonds of friendship, trying to pursue your dreams (or even identify what those dreams are) and trying not to feel like you're settling when your dreams don't turn out the way you hoped, unrequited love, envy, guilt, and always wanting to recapture the beauty and promise of youth. Wolitzer did a really good job creating her main characters and weaving lives for them, and she masterfully weaves between the past and the present. I felt connected with the characters and wanted to know what happened with them, but at times I wished that someone would force them to accept reality instead of dwelling on all of the things they felt weren't right about their lives.

This is a tremendously well-written and compelling look at friendship. But in the end, the plot isn't entirely as, well, interesting, as I hoped it would be.

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