Title: The Interestings
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
When Jules Jacobson attends a summer camp for the arts when she’s sixteen years old, she has no idea she is about to forge lifelong friendships. Over the years, Jules and her friends keep in touch as their lives and circumstances change. While Jonah seems to wander through life, unsure of what to do, Cathy parts with the group abruptly. Meanwhile, Ash and Ethan find one another, and also become wildly successful, while Ash’s brother Goodman falls into a downward spiral after one fateful night.
The Interestings is a thought-provoking novel that follows one group of people over the course of many years. At the center of the book is Jules, who functions as the primary narrator for the story. She’s a sympathetic, appealing character, but from the beginning, it’s clear she feels as though she doesn’t fit in with this group. They are elite, better than her in every way, and she feels fortunate that they include her in their doings. It’s interesting to see how this sense of inferiority follows Jules through her life and characterizes all of her interactions, from youth to adulthood, with the rest of the group.
It doesn’t help that, as adults, Jules and her husband, Dennis, struggle to make ends meet, while Ash and Ethan have achieved success and wealth beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s natural to feel pangs of jealousy in this situation, and Wolitzer doesn’t shy away from that. Indeed, the notion of envy between close friends is a central theme of this novel. How do those small hurts affect a friendship? What kind of long-term damage can they do?
Wolitzer doesn’t shy away from difficult topics in The Interestings. From rape to autism to AIDS, it seems that no subject is immune from Wolitzer’s scrutinizing eye. But what’s really remarkable about this book is that, despite the sheer number of issues crammed into it, it doesn’t feel heavy or burdensome. Wolitzer’s nuanced and subtle examination of each of these issues works its way into the narrative naturally and contributes to the overall message of the novel: that life has its fits and its starts, its high and low times, and that no matter your wealth or personal satisfaction, you will have setbacks and difficult times. In the end, though, you will come out ahead and things will work out.
There are many narratives within The Interestings, many characters to juggle and stories to tell, and it’s a testament to Wolitzer’s writing ability that the novel never becomes difficult or confusing. She establishes each character so well and so fully that there’s never any doubt of whose story is being told. Each person in this novel is layered, so that even the secondary characters leap off the page. It can be difficult to write a character-driven novel and keep the momentum up, yet Wolitzer does so effortlessly. The result is a novel you will pick up, fly through, and surface from nearly 500 pages later, mesmerized by the experience of reading it and in awe of what Wolitzer has done with these characters.