Recommendation: Fantastic new novel from Wolitzer. Lives up to the months of buzz from all corners of the publishing world. It is dense and long, but Wolitzer is incredibly sympathetic to her characters and their story. I’d classify it as great, accessible, literary fiction.
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Meg Wolitzer is back in business with the steady yet emotional novel The Interestings. If a thriller is like a tsunami then The Interestings is like the constant ebb and flow of the tides. It revels in the minor, but still very real, dramas of everyday life. And if you don’t think everyday life is interesting enough to carry 480 pages, then prepare to be taught a lesson by Wolitzer.
The plot deals with the lives of six friends who meet at a summer camp as teenagers. Ironically deciding to call themselves “The Interestings,” Goodman, Ash, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, and the primary narrator, Jules, commit to maintaining their friendships for the rest of their lives. But, as it always does, life has other plans. The book details the curves of life that lead each member of The Interestings into territory that they didn’t expect as they all try to reconcile privilege, talent, and desire.
For my take, I think Jules Jacobson may be the most human character ever written. Wolitzer does something with Jacobson that gets overlooked or shrugged off by most writers; she makes Jules regress. Not totally and not consistently, but it definitely is there. Most stories present a character who has a particular, dominant problem in their personality and throughout the story they usually find a way to work through or around that issue. By the time the book is over, the character has either succumbed to or triumphed over their personal affliction and the implication is that their result is permanent. Wolitzer rightfully disagrees. Jules is plagued by feelings of inadequacy and jealousy throughout her entire life. She goes through stretches where she seems to have a handle on these feelings, but then, whether suddenly or slowly, they pop back up into her brain. Even 50 years down the road, when Jules is all together a different person from the start of the novel, regression is an ever-present reality. It’s a subtle angle from Wolitzer. It doesn’t dominate the story, but it is always there waiting to pounce.
The only problem I have with The Interestings involves a different writer’s crutch that Wolitzer leans on just a touch. The “coincidental reunion.” Again, this is an element that is present in most of the books or movies that you read/watch and I don’t necessarily have a problem with its inclusion in this book, except that it was immediately noticeable to me. Something dramatic happens to one of the Interestings when they were very young and, after many years, they randomly run in to, and confront, the person who affected them so much. It’s about the only thing this novel and the movie Training Day have in common. Well, this and the fact that they are both fantastic (seriously, buy this novel, read it, then go buy that movie, watch it). But, in a novel that so effectively captures a nugget of life, I would have preferred to leave out the coincidental reunion. Sometimes things just happen, people become truly untethered, and then it’s over and they’re gone from your life. It’s not unrealistic that they could meet again, and it doesn’t ruin anything in the story, but it’s the one step where I hesitated, just for a moment, to follow Wolitzer’s lead.
Even with that tiny hiccup, I have to say The Interestings is second only to Spectacle for my favorite read of 2013 (and, to be fair, Spectacle is in my top 5 favorite books ever). It’s just good in all the important ways. Writing? Fantastic. Plot? Great. Characters? Amazing. Voice? Exact. If you have any love at all for general or literary fiction, you’ll enjoy this.