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The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer
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The Interestings: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Meg Wolitzer (Author)

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2,4741804,270 (3.59)128
The creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel one through life at age thirty, and in adulthood not everyone can sustain what seemed to be their adolescent specialness. Jules Handler, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. But her two best friends, now married to each other, become shockingly successful - true to their initial artistic dreams.… (more)
Member:EileenConnon
Title:The Interestings: A Novel
Authors:Meg Wolitzer (Author)
Info:Riverhead Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
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Work details

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

  1. 41
    Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (hairball)
    hairball: Similar tone.
  2. 20
    A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (vwinsloe)
    vwinsloe: Another group of lifelong friends followed over the decades.
  3. 21
    The Big Chill [1983 film] by Lawrence Kasdan (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: A very similar theme and story line for the generation immediately preceding The Interestings.
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English (176)  French (2)  Piratical (1)  All languages (179)
Showing 1-5 of 176 (next | show all)
I deeply wanted to like this, especially because Jeffrey Eugenides is a big fan, and I am a diehard Eugenides acolyte. For the first 30 pages, I was rapturous about the book. And, to be fair, I felt something at the end. But, in between.

SO MUCH PLOT.

Six young people spend a summer at camp together, and go on to live interconnected but wildly different lives. Some end in tragedy, some in muted success, others somewhere in between. Wollitzer's prose swirls in a chronologically confused but always comprehensible manner from the 1970s to the end of the 2000s. Her characters all inhabit comfortably bourgeois lives (theatre director, psychologist, and so on) and face bourgeois problems with their parents, marriages, and children. It's all reasonable. But...

SO MUCH PLOT.

To be fair, there are lots of people who love plot. They gag for it. The kind of people who devour daytime soap operas or read fantasy novels. There's nothing wrong with that. But I'm realising as I age that it's not for me. Plot is wonderful. It can be very engaging in, for instance, a classic mystery novel. But I have my threshold, and Wollitzer reached it before chapter 5. The novel rarely breaks for a moment of atmosphere, colour, or nuance. It's all meetings, conversations, and swift life changes.

Look, it is not a reviewer's job to disagree with what an author chose to do. It's to assess whether they did it successfully. And my problem with the torrential cascades of plot is simply that it deprives us of the most basic of literary adages: "show, don't tell". That's not always good advice, but here it may have been. A fortysomething man who was a stud in his teens has lost his charisma, but doesn't realise it. How do we know? Because the narrative voice tells us. And fair enough, too; there's no time for us to realise it from character or situation, because any given scene only takes one or two pages. There's too much plot, and not enough time. Characters fall in love, fall apart, have depressive episodes, deal with children with disabilities or other crises, soar to the height of their career unexpectedly, change jobs, lament their past life, unintentionally cause divorces, commit alleged rape, are weirdly groomed by older musicians, discover themselves, doubt themselves. Veering between timelines is a clever technique, but it just contributes to Wollitzer's need to keep updating us with chronologies and details that leave us panting with exhaustion. In other words:

SO MUCH PLOT.

Conversely, despite this being a chunky book with lots of plot, dialogue rarely packs a punch. Conversations are functional, people speak just like the rest of us do, and concerns are rarely elevated to literary levels. War and Peace it ain't. Moreso, there's an argument to be made that aside from Jules, the central character, no-one really changes that much. They remain types, and we never dig down.

While I felt an indescribable angst while reading the final chapter, in which unsurprisingly Jules meditates on life, loss, age, and change, I'm not even sure it was because of the author. It was just that inevitable yearning that we all feel when confronted with thoughts of our own past and that endless question of what we have gained with age, but what we have lost. It was empathy by default that I was feeling.

I continue to wish that I could have appreciated this more. ( )
  therebelprince | Nov 15, 2020 |
This is a coming-of-age story that lasts into middle age. Julie (Jules) Jacobsen attends Spirit in the Woods camp for art-y students the summer she turns 15 (and the summer of Watergate) and her life is forever changed. Never one of the "cool" kids in her life at home, she is immediately included in the "cool" group at camp, the Interestings, anchored by brother and sister Goodman and Ash Wolf and evened up as 3 boys and 3 girls: Jonah Bay, a talented musician and son of a famous folk singer, Ethan Figman, an animator who goes on to Simpsons-style success by age 25, and Cathy Kiplinger, a beautiful, busty dancer. This first summer they are only shades of who they will become and there is the predictable coupling over the next 3 summers they return. The only couple that sticks is the most unlikely: goofy Ethan and the beautiful, refined, rich Ash. Jules finds herself a constant centerpoint between them; she is the best girlfriend to Ash, and vice-versa, and Ethan always loved Jules first -- there is a deep best-friend comfort between them that supersedes both their marriages. The summers are idyllic and the friends often meet up in NYC through the school year, but when Goodman and Cathy become a couple, the Interestings bust apart. Cathy accuses Goodman of rape and his resulting reaction becomes a shadow they all live under well into adulthood. Wolitzer does a nice job of providing backstory for the main characters as well as following all the individuals into adulthood, both on their own and as a group. No thread is left to ravel. Jules tries to make it as a comic actress in NYC, and Ash also pursues the theatre with better results, in part due to money and influence. Ethan is a runaway success and Jonah abandons music for MIT and a career in engineering. Cathy and Goodman are out of the picture, for the most part, though they linger in the collective memory of the group and also make unexpected appearances at unexpected times. By her thirties, Jules is married to solid, nice-guy, not-artsy Dennis, who still fits in well with the crowd and she has abandoned the stage for a career as a social worker. As lives take predictable arcs, through careers, marriage, children, the friendship persists, and morphs to fit the stage of life. I liked the author's detached tone, verging on snarky, and mostly from Jules' point of view. It is honest and poignant and raises some great questions about art and success and friendship and envy. Jules is a smart and self-aware woman and as such is able to see the pitfalls of this sometimes toxic friendship as well as keep her own life fairly grounded. She says in one of the camp summers: "When you looked closely at something, you could almost faint...but you had to look closely if you wanted any knowledge at all in life." Sometimes Jules sees things with crystal clarity, sometimes she misses the big picture, and sometimes she is blind to the pervasive influence the Interestings have had on her life, but still she looks and that examination is worth hearing about. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
The writing in this book was actually excellent, but I didn't care much for the characters. There was not much story, barely any action at all. It was kind of a slice-of-life narrative, but the slice was much to large. I just didn't care about these people. As a secondary character said, toward the end of the book, they just weren't that interesting! ( )
  klnbennett | Oct 7, 2020 |
The Interestings were not so interesting. Unless the book was extremely selective in its focus:

Summer camp was the formative (and possibly only significant) period of self-discovery for these people.
None of the characters seemed to intentionally develop additional interests or friends outside of camp.
None of the significant events of their lives were influenced by anything outside of camp people.
Jules is consumed by jealousy and insecurity dating back to camp. I want to think this is unlikely.
Jules spends most of the book being the least empathetic or perceptive member of the group. I find her choice of careers highly unlikely.

Am I missing something? Are these the most boring people ever? How does Jonah put up with them? ( )
1 vote beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
As warning, this is my kind of book. My fiance asked me about it and said "So are all of the characters from New York and it takes place in the city?" Why yes, how did he know? "Because you're reading it" was his reply. I'm also predisposed towards character-driven fiction that gets deep inside characters' brains and worlds. If you like that kind of fiction, too, then you will love The Interestings. It reminded me a bit of a Jonathan Franzen novel but perhaps more fair to the human condition, if that makes sense. The characters who get fully explored in the book have flaws, but they generally grow as people, despite being caught up in the same preoccupations they dealt with in high school. I don't think I'm far enough out of high school yet to know whether I'll be bothered by some of the same things in middle age, but I can appreciate the importance of holding on to friendships from a certain time in your life. ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
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Epigraph
While riding on a train goin' west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had
~Bob Dylan, "Bob Dylan's Dream"

... to own a little talent ... was an awful, plaguing thing ... being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time.
~Mary Robison, "Yours"
Dedication
For my parents, who sent me there
And for Martha Parker, whom I met there
First words
On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time.  They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony.
Quotations
Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good, like previously unavailable summer fruit.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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The creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel one through life at age thirty, and in adulthood not everyone can sustain what seemed to be their adolescent specialness. Jules Handler, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. But her two best friends, now married to each other, become shockingly successful - true to their initial artistic dreams.

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Book description
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.
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