The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Summer is almost here and many children will be heading to camp. Most parents try to find a camp that will speak to their children’s interests or talents. In the year of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, six campers at an arts camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods decide to call themselves, with typical teenaged self-absorption, The Interestings. At camp, everybody gets a trophy for participation, but once they pass through the door into adulthood, who will be ones to keep up with their talents and who may be the one to show it to the world?
After reading this sprawling novel that follows the six friends from their first meeting in 1974 and into their fifties, I kept asking myself—as I know the author wanted me to—are these characters really that interesting? It is a tribute to Meg Wolitzer that I kept reading and kept asking myself the question.
Awkward and wry Julie Jacobson, on scholarship to the camp, is the outsider and wants to be a comedic actress. She renames herself Jules to fit her role in The Interestings. Dorky Ethan Figman is an animator with a South Park-like vision to create an animated world called Figland. Jonah Bay plays guitar and sings but has the pressure of a famous songwriter mother.
Lovely, people-pleaser Ash wants to direct plays. Ash’s sexy brother Goodman is undecided about his future, and his life takes a terrible turn one New Year’s Eve. Cathy, Goodman’s girlfriend, dances but knows she does not have the dancer’s body to succeed.
Although the novel alternates the points of view of the six characters, I found Jules to have the central voice. She asks herself as she goes to acting auditions in her twenties with no success, when do you stop trying and know you will not make it? Jules finds out a little talent is a dangerous thing. She watches Ethan make it in the big time with the monetary rewards that come with fame while she and her husband Dennis struggle. Jules’ sins are envy and covetousness.
Talent and fame are not enough to get you through the many vagaries of life—such as the challenges of finding meaningful work, relationships and raising children, of finding your role in the noise and chaos of events in the twentieth century and of fighting depression and illness—all of which touch this group of friends. Meg Wolitzer writes an interesting novel.