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Historical Novel of the Last Four Decades
on March 27, 2013
I was persuaded by a group of real friends, who are also avid readers, that I should give the latest Meg Wolitzer novel, "The Interestings", a go even though I'd been disappointed by her last novel. I'm glad I listened to them! "The Interestings" is indeed interesting - AND well written, thoughtful and both witty and touching.
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.