The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I think Meg Wolitzer set out to write a novel that would represent a generation. She took six teenagers and put them in a summer camp for the arts, Spirit-in-the-Woods, in 1974. She gave them different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses, different experiences, but made them bond one night in a teepee in the woods. Then she made them grow up, go to college, have kids, work at jobs, live their lives – all while trying to illustrate everything that happened during this generation through these six people.
But first let’s back up.
The six teenagers who meet at Spirit-in-the-Woods are: Jonah, the son of a famous folk singer; brother and sister Ash and Goodman, who are attractive and popular and rich; Ethan, a budding animator; Cathy, a talented dancer; and Jules, the insecure ugly duckling who just feels grateful to be included.
The odd group stays friends through high school, with their fair share of misunderstandings, fights, romantic entanglements and other teenage nonsense, until one member permanently leaves the group one fateful New Year’s Eve. Ash, Ethan, and Jules set up shop in New York, and their relationship is strained when finances become obviously unequal between the friends. Jonah deals with some childhood demons and Goodman gets into legal trouble.
While the narrative of the friends through the years could be interesting, I had a few issues with The Interestings that I couldn’t get past. I felt like Meg Wolitzer was trying to cram every single possible identifiable thing that happened during this generation into this book – these friends see the first cases of AIDS , they encounter the cult founded by Sun Myung Moon, the struggle with cordless phones, they live in NYC on September 11. It’s all a little too much and too convenient and it felt forced to me.
Also, Jules is the most dominant voice in the novel and I really didn’t like her. She is jealous and mean-spirited and I didn’t see her a good friend at all. I’ve read books where the main character isn’t particularly likeable, but I felt that Wolitzer wanted me to like Jules – she wanted me to think she was funny and goofy and likeable, but I found her annoying and dumb and particularly unfunny.
While reading The Interestings, I wanted to see what would happen to the group; I was eager to see if and how situations would be resolved and it was interesting to get a glimpse into some events of the time period. But, all in all, The Interestings is not a book I’d recommend.