Authors: Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Riverhead Books, published by the Penguin Group
Publication Date: 2013
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.
I’ve got to give this novel a 3 out of 5 because, walking away from it, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m on the fence and here’s why. While the authorial voice and the writing style are engaging and the pacing of the story is smooth, within the story itself, I felt as though nothing really happens. The narrative arc flatlines throughout with a little blip here or there, but never do we reach that desired ultimate climax in the end. The story builds to nothing at all.
The Interestings is a story about life, and the intertwining of many lives. It’s about the human condition: maturity, loss, death, suffering, happiness, struggle, jealousy, illness, morality, etc. The trials that are so common among families in the real world, become summed up in the lives of three distinct people and their immediate connections and families. I found Wolizter’s story to be heavy with truths. She doesn’t shy away from the unpleasantness of life that is often faced, but usually unacknowledged. For example, one character, Ethan, struggles to love his autistic son because he fears his inadequacy as a father, but also shies away from a diagnosis that he cannot and does not understand.
The story arc follows a strange path, starting when the protagonist, Jules Jacobson is in her youth, and jumping forward and back throughout her timeline. While this technique serves to demonstrate how a particular event in a character’s life remains relevant or has an effect on the character’s life years down the road, I personally felt the style to be choppy and disruptive to the reading process. It’s like this: you’re reading and you enter a flashback or flash forward (depending where you are in the story), but the flashback or flash forward lasts for so long that you forget that you are no longer in “present time” and when the segment finishes, you’re left feeling a little disoriented. It’s hard for me to say whether I liked Wolizter’s use of this style or not. It was ok, but it wasn’t great.
One thing I struggled with was Wolizter’s characterizations. People are either very ugly or they are very attractive. There is no middle ground, and I’m not sure what the significance of this characterization was. Was it meant to further the gap between those in the book who are distinguished as rich or luck versus those who struggle financially and are unlucky? It bothered me a little bit that no character had the potential to be average. The extremes added little to the story.
Overall The Interestings was an okay read. It’s not a page turner. You won’t be clawing to get to the next page. The pace is leisurely, the story is uneventful and not overly exciting, but the characters are complex and realistic in terms of their emotions and personalities. This novel was a very difficult one to review because my opinions are really lacking in either the positive or the negative spectrum. I remain neutral. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I wouldn’t try to dissuade your from reading it.