Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

 


Yes, the characters in this chunky novel, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, were well -- interesting! For some of the gang of kids who meet at a summer camp for the arts when they are teenagers, those summers define them. Relationships are formed, alliances made, secrets shared. The character we come to know best is Jules Jacobson, an awkward girl with a bad perm who feels she is talentless until her new friends find her funny. And so for many years Jules aspires towards becoming a comic actress. Feeling her own family background is banal, she is much impressed by the moneyed cultural Manhattan milieu of the Wolf family, who invite her in as if she was one of their own after that first summer of meeting Ash and Goodman Wolf. Also in the inner circle: Ethan, a toadlike boy whose talent for animation will eventually make him very rich, Jonah, the son of a famous folksinger with a crippling secret from his past, and Cathy, a beautiful, bountifully curvy girl who very much wants to be a dancer.
The story is expertly laid out in that wherever we land on the lifelong fabric of these friendships, we know what we need to know in order to understand what's going on. The flashbacks are never distracting. Success, or the lack of success affects each character, as does love. Jules becomes a therapist and Ash, a feminist theater director. They become best friends for life. Unlikely as it is, beautiful Ash and ugly Ethan marry and have children. That first summer, Ethan fell in love with Jules. They became more like soulmates than young lovers, and their friendship never dies, although it is very much impacted by Ethan's financial success. Jules often feels like a church mouse compared to wealthy Ethan and Ash. But Jules finds a good husband and has a child too. As for Ash's brother, Goodman -- therein lies a tragedy I won't try and explain, one that gives the book much ethical gravitas. And on and on it goes, the fascinating lifelong stories of a scraggly bunch of talented kids who all land on their feet in New York City, strengthened and challenged by their sometimes unlikely connections to each other. 
Here is one excerpt from page 21 of the novel that I will also be copying into my one of my Quote collection notebooks: (Ash speaking to Jules that first summer they meet) "I've always sort of felt that you prepare yourself for over the course of your whole life for the big moments, you know? But when they happen, you sometimes feel totally unready for them, or even that they're not what you thought. And that's what makes them strange. The reality is different from the fantasy."

Out of the mouths of teens, but entirely believable in the context of Wolitzer's wonderful novel. That's what I loved about this novel: these characters were so real to me. I cried near the book's end, and loved every minute of time I spent amongst "the Interestings" -- they became MY gang of best, best friends, and I'm sure there's a world of readers out there that will feel much the same. Bravo, Meg Wolitzer!

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