The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer
It’s been an intriguing time to join the book blogging world. My feed has filled with reading suggestions for quarantine, and I love the diversity across them. Sometimes you want a light read and sometimes you need something to get your teeth into to distract yourself. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is a decent size novel that explores meaty themes such as friendship, talent and success, so I was keen to get stuck in.
The Interestings is about six teenagers who forge a friendship over an intense summer at Spirit-in-the-Woods, a camp for the arts. The group is made up of Cathy, Jonah and Ethan, siblings Ash and Goodman, and Jules. One night, high and drunk in their teepee, they make a pact to stay exactly as they are now – they will stay interesting. The story follows the group as they grow older where their friendships and dreams are put to the test.
Now this will sound odd, but I like books where not a lot happens. As in, there isn’t an obvious ‘main event’ but rather the interior narrative is the focus. So that in mind, I love that the plot of The Interestings is, well, life. There are of course significant events but mostly we are following the characters on the trajectory of their lives, jumping back and forth in the timeline, and the ebb and flow of their friendships. Wolitzer is a master of making the people the most interesting thing in a story. She captures human nature with all its messiness and flaws perfectly.
The book is predominantly told from Jules’ perspective, who was the addition to the group that first summer. With an underwhelming upbringing, Jules (previously plain old Julie) is predictably drawn to Ash and her rich, glamorous family. Jules’ inner monologue over time ranges between feelings of jealousy, love, frustration and restlessness. She struggles to come to terms with failing as an actress, whilst Ethan and Ash have become hugely successful. Jonah, Cathy and Goodman meanwhile, are people who have talent but can’t use it, because of either their own, or someone else’s, destructive behavior. This causes their paths to diverge, so the binds of loyalty both constrict and loosen as the group adapts to adult life.
As I was reading, I found myself thinking more and more about Jules’ outright admissions of jealousy. Is it simply an ugly trait, or is it something that happens to us all? Even when we love someone, do their achievements hold a mirror up to what we perceive to be our own failures? What I liked is that Wolitzer doesn’t force an answer on us, but rather lets the reader ruminate.
The Interestings also comments on the significance of class and money in the arts world. I loved watching Ethan’s rise to fame as he was talented whilst continuing to be a kind and considerate friend. Yet it’s acknowledged that he, and Ash, are supported in their pursuits by the family money from Ash’s parents. However, Goodman has the same parents yet he has the opposite journey. Instead he descends from riches to rags, his beauty and youth a mask for an obnoxious personality.
I would strongly recommend The Interestings to anyone who hasn’t read it. I feel like I could go on for another 600-odd words and not do it justice. That’s the magic of Meg Wolitzer, she makes it seem so easy!
You can order a copy of The Interestings here.