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The Interestings: A Novel Hardcover – April 9, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013: This knowing, generous and slyly sly new novel follows a group of teenagers who meet at a summer camp for artsy teens in 1974 and survive as friends through the competitions and realities of growing up. At its heart is Jules (nee Julie, she changes it that first summer to seem more sophisticated) Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress who comes to realize she’s got more creative temperament than talent; her almost boyfriend Ethan Figman, the true genius in the bunch (he’s a cartoonist); musician Jonah Bay, son of a famous Baez-ish folksinger; and the Wolf siblings, Ash and Goodman, attractive and mysterious. How these five circle each other, come together and break apart, makes for plenty of hilarious scenes and plenty of heartbreaking ones, too. A compelling coming of age story about five privileged kids, this is also a pitch-perfect tale about a particular generation and the era that spawned it. --Sara Nelson
In that self-obsessed, hyperaware, and mordantly ironic way of privileged teens, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash, and her brother Goodman dub themselves “The Interestings” when they reconvene at their trendy creative-arts summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains. Jules, née Julie, Jacobson is both flattered and flabbergasted to be admitted into their little enclave, where she uses her sardonic wit to compensate for a lack of beauty, money, or social graces. To her surprise, golden-girl Ash adopts her as her best friend, while the dorky but brilliant Ethan becomes mired in unrequited love. After a tragedy affects two of their members in very different ways, the remaining group slogs their way into adulthood, embarking upon careers and relationships with varying degrees of success and satisfaction. Despite being rooted in a wealth of pop-cultural references, from Nixon’s resignation to the Moonies to Wall Street scandals and even the aftermath of 9/11, Wolitzer’s clique of narcissistic friends turns out to be not so interesting after all. --Carol Haggas
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But somewhere in the 400 range, it becomes painfully evident that it's going nowhere interesting. She sets high stakes in the secrets the characters keep from each other, leaving the reader expecting their endings to fit a perfect work of fiction rather than mirroring the mundanity of actual life.
SPOILER ALERT - it's the latter of the above. A decades-long secret outed by the simple act of not knowing one was on speaker phone? Come on. The book's felon on the lam never caught? WTF. Skin cancer being another's ultimate demise? Bo-ring!
I can make the case that "The Interestings" can be considered a historical novel of the past 4 decades; I call that "recent" history because I can remember it! Reading about the 1980s for example, brought back memories of:
- the first cases of AIDS and how bewildering that was
- the first cordless phones
- mugger-full and dirty NYC
- the first soapy taste of the now ubiquitous herb cilantro
- the Moonies
- "Women's Lib" being the term to describe feminism
This novel is full of such memories because it's about six friends who meet in a summer camp for artistic kids in the 70s and it follows their lives into the present, touching on each decade as they make their way to adulthood. The novel moves quickly and is never boring or slow as many things happen to each of these people as they face their lives. It felt voyeuristic - in a good way - to follow their ups and downs. I could relate because I also "grew up" at the same time. There is a bit of jumping around in time and significant foreshadowing which I found to be an effective story-telling device here.
There are many "themes" in the novel; friendship, the nature of art, the meaning of "talent", loss of innocence, sexual attraction, and the relationship between art and money, to name a few. But I think the theme that interested ME the most, was the theme of envy and it's ugly and corrosive nature. When we envy our friends' successes or their material wealth, or their looks or their talents, what does that do to us and how we negotiate in the world? How does that affect our friendships and does envy actually negate true friendship? Can you envy someone you truly love?
I love novels that entertain me, inform me, and that challenge me to think about things from different points of view - as through the lens of well-crafted characters. This novel gave me all of that.