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The Interestings Audible – Unabridged

3.5 out of 5 stars 1,884 customer reviews

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By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Let me get this out of the way right now: this is a tremendous book. I have a couple of criticisms, which I will get to, but hot damn. Meg Wolitzer has written an astonishingly clever, detailed novel, and the utmost respect must be given to that. Remember this book, because it will definitely be popping up again when people begin compiling best-of lists for 2013.

But let's talk about the novel, shall we? In 1974, six teenagers meet at a summer camp for the arts and jokingly refer to themselves as The Interestings--exactly the kind of ironic, half-kidding-half-hopeful joke that captivates them at that moment in time. The six run the gamut of the art world: a dancer, a musician, an animator; an actress who wants to further the cause of feminism in theater, a wannabe architect, and a comedic actress. The latter character, Jules, forms the center of our story. Significantly, she's also the outlier. Jules isn't an artist when she ends up at Camp Spirit-in-the-Woods. It's unclear how she found her way to a camp for artists when there were so many different options out there (one of those woefully nitpicky details that nevertheless irked me); she simply wanted an escape from her family and the grief they all feel after the abrupt death of her father from cancer. What's important is that she's an outsider in this world when we first meet her, and she very much discovers herself once she has been thrust into The Interestings. She doesn't feel like she belongs but she desperately wants to. She discovers an ability to make people laugh and parlays it into a comical role in a camp play--a moment that overwhelms her with the sense that she has arrived, that she has found her life's calling.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Probably more than any book I've read in the past couple of years, The Interestings made me think about what I like in a novel. There is, in terms of mechanics, a lot to admire here. The sentences flow well, the writer has a command of the subject matter, and has sympathy for the most of the main characters she creates. Meg Wolitzer is a pro at what she does.

But then there are the subjects being addressed, the characters, and the tone. Personally, I can't connect to the people described here. I'm not an East Coaster. I'm not super-liberal. I'm not plugged into popular culture, even the stuff that is regarded as high-brow television. If you're a boomer who loves things like The Daily Show, reads the Style section of the NY Times, and reads profiles in the New Yorker of movers and shakers in the business and art world, you'll probably find The Interestings appealing.

Wolitzer has written a sprawling, decades-long tale of six East Coast kids who grew up in the 1970s. Five of the kids come from wealthy homes full of strivers. The sixth is the main character in this novel and is a scholarship kid enamored of the privilege of the others. In a lot of ways, The Interestings is a much better version of another novel I read recently, The Marriage Plot. They are both Jane Austen-like in their approach. Both have third person narrators who are not at all shy about telling exactly what is going on inside the heads of the principal characters. Mental illness plays a significant role in both stories. In The Interestings there is the welcome bonus of some quiet, droll humor.

If you like traditional novels in a modern setting that are focused on relationships between friends, The Interestings will likely be a worthwhile read. If you have an aversion to East Coast culture and gravitate toward novels with big ideas, I'd stay away.
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