The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead Books, 468 pages
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.