Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: April 9th 2013
At a summer camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods, a group of six teens is brought together. For five it is a return to a paradise they’ve known in past summers but for Julie Jacobson, a scholarship student, it is a trip to a new world, far from her dreary prosaic life in a small town. Spirit-in-the-Woods is an arts camp and each of the students is considered to have artistic talent. Julie is not certain what hers is but when invited to attend a gathering with the other five, all of whom constitute the cool kids, she is both thrilled and wary. It is the first night of many when her wry sense of humor brings the group to laughter so they induct her as their newest member. This night they decide they need a name to denote how fabulous they know themselves to be and from then on they call themselves The Interestings. It is also in this first summer that the defining relationship begins between Julie (already renamed Jules because it is infinitely cooler) and Ethan, an awkward and unattractive cartoonist. Early on Ethan attempts to move them into a romance but for Jules that kind of feeling is never there. Later in life, he tries to explain his feelings
Because it feels so wonderful, at least to me. Because, oh, even though I’ve been entwined with Ash for quite a while, when things go bad I revert to the desire I’ve always held—the desire for you—which I will hold until the day I die.
The Interestings is Meg Wolitzer’s newest book about the passages of life. Initially, in the camp years, we relive dating, girl talk, and decisions about college and futures. Later, we launch into the real world, where, for some, the ambitions of youth are realized but for others they are released as childish dreams. Ethan, the talented animator, and Ash, a lovely wealthy theater major, move from friendship into marriage and begin a life of almost non-stop success and prosperity, despite an enormous secret Ash keeps from her husband. For others the trajectory is not so clear or painless. Jules comes to find that her gift for humor is not enough to sustain an acting career and as she moves into marriage with a sonography technician, and the life of a low income family in Manhattan, she begins to grapple with jealousy towards Ethan and Ash, her oldest and closest friends.
The two couples, side by side, had history and comfort. They had all come together in New York City, but now the imbalance between the couples was suddenly, jarringly evident.
Wolitzer does a marvelous job at communicating all the niggling insecurities and ugliness that can intrude on even the best of relationships and she does so in a way that is without judgment. This is not a book of full-blown meltdowns like Johnathan Franzen’s works, novels that vibrates with anger and resentment. Instead, it is reflective, with compassion for the way life often goes despite our desires. The regrets and petty behavior are relatable, even if not something we want to acknowledge in ourselves, we feel their truth. Wolitzer captures the intimate details, unspoken thoughts, of flawed but loving characters, each doing the best they can. For some their lives will explode with success but for the rest it is the small accomplishments that will define them. Ultimately, this is a book of depth and quiet beauty, of life the way it is, not as we might dream it to be.
But, she knew, you didn’t have to marry your soulmate, and you didn’t even have to marry an Interesting. You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker, the one who cracked everyone, or made everyone want to sleep with you, or be the one who wrote and starred in the play that got a standing ovation. You could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting. Anyway, she knew, the definition could change…