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Book Review: ‘The Interestings’

“You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker, the one who cracked everyone up, or made everyone want to sleep with you, or be the one who wrote and starred in the play that got the standing ovation. You could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting.”

The importance of talent is at the heart of Meg Wolitzer’s literary novel “The Interestings” and the characters spend their lives trying to avoid being ordinary. Wolitzer has been churning out quality fiction since she was an undergraduate student at Brown University, but her most recent novel, “The Interestings,” is widely considered to be the most, well, interesting.

The 560-page novel begins at a summer camp for aspiring creative artists, where six talented 15-year-olds gather in a teepee and half-jokingly dub themselves “the interestings.” For the next 550 pages or so, the novel tracks pivotal moments in their lives as they grow from wanna-be sophisticates to disillusioned adults coming to terms with the fact that their lives might not turn out the way they expected.

The group consists of the homely, but wildly talented animator Ethan Figman, who becomes a massively successful television animator and later marries the delicately beautiful Ash Wolf. Ash’s brother, wanna-be architect Goodman Wolf is charismatic, but directionless. His relationship with dancer Cathy Kiplinger provides some drama at the beginning of the novel. Aspiring actress Jules Jacobson and Jonah Bay, the son of a famous folk musician, round out the clique.

The novel shifts its focus between the six members of the group, but focuses mostly on the character Jules. Jules regards herself as a sort of outsider, lacking the financial means and artistic talent that the other members of the group have. Through her tender and complex characterization of Jules, Wolitzer examines the desire to be special and the resignation that comes when you realize you aren’t that special at all.

The only problem is that the over-development of Jules left me wanting to know more about the rest of the group. The reader knows every intimate detail about Jules, and other characters are left to the wayside. The novel could have benefitted from exploring other characters (especially Goodman, who was incredibly compelling). The reader gets a good sense of who the characters are, but doesn’t get to spend much time with them.

Wolitzer’s prose is understated but beautiful, and she’s an astute observer of social relationships. This novel is peppered with little nuggets of wisdom like, “People could not get enough of what they had lost, even if they no longer wanted it.” She somehow manages to keep the reader excitedly turning pages, even though the book is really just a recount of the not-always extraordinary lives of a group of friends.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven novel that keeps you turning the page and wondering what might happen next, this book is not for you. If you’re interested in relatable and realistic characters struggling to come to terms with their own limitations, I would recommend “The Interestings.”

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK:

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Publication date: 3/25/2014

Page Count: 560

Other Works by Meg Wolitzer: The Uncoupling, The Wife, The Position.

*If you are interested in Meg Wolitzer, but don’t have the time to read The Interestings, check out Belzhar, which is the first young adult novel she’s written.

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