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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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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.
Wolitzer too frequently dumps obscure (at least for me) literary references and employs dictionary-defying word choices when simpler ones would do, but overall this is a wonderful read whose characters will remain with you long after the book ends. Of particular note is Wolitzer’s ability to relay a circumstance from multiple perspectives while allowing the reader to render his or her own judgment. The incident between Goodman and Cathy is one outstanding example of this.
As a huge non-fiction reader, The Interestings is not something I would ordinarily have picked up. But I was more than pleased that I did.
If you were young, or even young-ish in the 70s and 80s, the pop culture references will interest you. At this point, an event such as Nixon's resignation is taken for granted in a cynical sort of way, as in "well, of course he's a crook; he's a politician." Given all that has happened since Nixon left the White House in 1974, I long ago lost that feeling of betrayal and shock that an American president could behave so badly. Seeing it referenced in this novel and witnessing the impact it has on the characters brought back to me the recognition of the immensity of Nixon's deceptions and how they shook the nation and individual citizens.
While I would sum up The Interestings as a very good character study, it has another attribute that deserves mention, and that is its several, overarching themes. Most prominent, at least the way I read this book, is that identity formation entails making a major decision -- whether one is conscious of it or not -- about the type of relationship you're going to have with your birth family once you're an independent adult. All of the characters detach from their birth families to a greater or lesser extent, with one girl in particular remaining much closer to her birth family than the others in the group. This has major ramifications down the road when she's married and must come to grips with a secret that she's kept from her husband -- also one of the group -- at the behest of her parents. These questions of identity and detachment come up again once the characters have become parents and must cope with their own children leaving the nest.
This novel is of the type that literature snobs enjoy being seen reading on the subway or while sitting alone at a Starbucks. That is to say, the type I often shy away from. In this instance, however, I'm quite glad my Kindle promotions motivated me to read The Interestings. Bottom line: This novel is especially worthwhile if you're interested in tuning in, or re-tuning in, to the America of the 1970s and 1980s.
Most recent customer reviews
It's just not very good. It's very linear and boring. There are too many characters to get emotionally involved and to connect to it.Read more