The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead Books, 468 pages
ISBN 9781594488399

Summer camp gives kids the chance to try out a brand-new identity with new friends in a new place, if only for a week or two before returning home. For fifteen year old Julie Jacobson of the very suburban Cindy Drive in Underhill, New York, an arts camp in the Berkshires allows her to step into the cosmopolitan world of New York City teenagers who discuss the merits of Anais Nin and dream of big futures. Julie, now Jules, transforms into a wry aspiring actress in a circle of cultured, ambitious friends who refer to themselves as The Interestings, and when she climbs into her mother’s green Dodge for the long ride home, nothing is more important to Jules than becoming worthy of the name.

The Interestings follows Jules and her friends from that first summer at Spirit-in-the-Woods camp through the remainder of their adolescence and their twenties to their fully established adult lives in New York City. Ethan, who drew and imagined his way out of his parents’ unhappy marriage, first fell in love with Jules but eventually married Ash. The combination of his talent and her connections led to a syndicated television show and success beyond their adolescent dreams. Although she is wildly happy for her two best friends, Jules needs a glass of wine before she can read their annual Christmas letter. It’s not that she has a bad life – she has a solid career in social work and is married to a kindhearted ultrasound technician – but she and Dennis struggle to pay the rent on their tiny apartment. And more than that, her life is fulfilling but perhaps not quite sophisticated enough to be an Interesting. The other three friends have found that their claim to the title, though solid, came at too high a price.

The Interestings is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Wolitzer has taken a long, hard look at the concept of the quest for success and explored its effects on integrity, happiness, and personal relationships. A must-read for those who enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger.

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6 Responses to The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

  1. Alex says:

    The first part of your review made me smile because I made exactly the same sort of resolution when I first went away to college. I was going to completely recreate myself and be a different and far more interesting person. It lasted about two days. This does sound really interesting though. I’m looking for books to put on my summer reading list and if I can find a copy of this easily enough then it’s definitely going to be one of them. Thank you for bringing it to my notice.

    • Naomi says:

      I think it’s pretty common for teens and twentysomethings to hold their futures to a very high standard. Then, when the time comes, you find the tradeoff can be too high. I liked this book especially because it looked at success from so many personal angles and drew conclusions without being preachy. If you read it, please let me know what you think.

  2. Letizia says:

    I’m going to add this to my ‘books to read’ list, thanks for the recommendation. In my Buddhist mediation class we were recently discussing the definition of happiness in relation to whether one compares oneself with another’s life or not and this review remind me of that (I don’t know if the book is really about that or not but it made me think back to that discussion).

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, it is about that in a roundabout way. It’s more about setting a benchmark of excellence for yourself but getting distracted by how quickly those around you are moving up their own ladders. And Wolitzer is keen to point out that no one escapes suffering, not even the fastest of the climbers. The happiest character is at peace with his non-interesting status and lives fully within the limits of his own life. I never thought of this until you pointed it out, but I suppose this is a very Buddhist book in its own way.

  3. Touch2Touch says:

    Now I’m intrigued, by your review and the comments. Will put it on my list.

  4. muddledmom says:

    I’ve had this on my list to read for a while. I think you’ve talked me into it.

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