Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Title: The Interestings
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Riverhead
Released: April 9, 2013
Source: Riffle Fiction (giveaway)

Synopsis (from publisher):

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.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

“The only option for a creative person was constant motion – a lifetime of busy whirligigging in a generally forward direction, until you couldn’t do it any longer.” 

The end of any major, shared experience, especially one which coincides with the end of adolescence, is bound to induce some degree of ennui. In The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer has shown how this impacts the lives of six friends. Time and time again, the author shows how well she understands the creative personality type, especially as these characters grapple with the varying levels (and definitions) of success among them.

I took to Wolitzer’s writing immediately, her intuitive and compelling perceptions of her characters’ unfolding lives. Her storytelling is delivered in a way I found captivating: Time spiraled forward, overlapping slightly, circling around again, then moving forward and repeating. It reminded me of the Spirograph kits that were so popular when I was a kid (and incidentally, during the time these characters were at camp).

One especially touching moment for me was when Jules was straightening the house before her friend Ash came to visit. Jules’s mother realizes that she is doing so because she’s embarrassed by the modest home. Then Jules notices that her mom has made that realization, that she may have caused embarrassment where there was none before. Multiple impressions of the same moment; readers are treated to this kind of depth throughout the novel.

My only grievance was the undercurrent of petty jabs toward one particular political leaning (for the record, not one to which I belong). These subtle derisions were part of the general narrative, not attached to a particular character or enhancing the story. They were usually easy to dismiss. But there was one aimed at Reagan in his Alzheimer’s-stricken old age that I felt was such a low blow, even the beautiful writing around it couldn’t temper its ugly spirit.

The Interestings is a fully fleshed-out, character-driven novel, and a long one at that (just shy of 500 pages). I found the characters’ lives realistic and fairly interesting, but for the most part, the storytelling itself is what kept me engaged.

I received a copy of this book through a giveaway held by Riffle Fiction. A review was not requested or expected; I did not receive any compensation for this honest review.