Review: The Interestings

Posted 9 August, 2019 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Interestings
By: Meg Wolitzer
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

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.

Another book that’s been sitting on my wish-to-read, and then my TBR, queue for ages. I had been meaning to read it for the last few summers now but never got around to it until now; this year I was eyeing it on my stack and thinking, Yes, I’m going to read you this year. And here we are, I finally read it *happy tears*

The Interestings is a fascinating study of teenage friends whose lives undergo all the successes, failures, disappointments, and joys of adulthood. Not all of them fulfil their youthful artistic potentials; some meet with disappointment, discouragement, mishaps that lead them to more practical occupations and meager income lifestyles while others somehow are blessed with good fortune either through their available means or by hard work. To see as Jules struggles to reconcile her friends’ good fortunes against her more mundane course of life, to control that envy she sometimes feels towards them, but still genuinely care for her friends was really interesting. There’s a divide, of course–Ash being from a well-off family and everything–but somehow their friendship still worked even after all the years and the challenges that they’ve come across. And despite of different class status, Ash does have her own problems, even if it seems she’s compartmentalised it all. In some ways she seems like a distant character, I guess because we see much of her through Jules and Ethan’s eyes than through her own perspective.

There’s also a bit of intrigue running through the story concerning Ash’s brother that honestly felt like a disaster reading to explode at any moment. You never know when it was going to rear its head and in what form. I thought Ethan was an interesting character as well, the guy who realised his dream and was able to express himself as creatively as he could. But I also felt for him and how it always seemed like there was the what if/the road not taken.

There were two-fold elements in this novel that I didn’t enjoy as much. Firstly, Jonah’s story didn’t interest me as much. I think this is partly because he always seemed separate from the rest of the characters: he attended some get-togethers but otherwise he always seemed to be doing his own thing, his experiences sad but still disjointed from everyone else. That and there were just some events in these characters’ lives that didn’t interest me as much, and the writing in those sections felt so stilted and a little removed that I just wasn’t feeling it, or feeling the characters at times.

But that ending…

Overall I’m glad to have finally read The Interestings. It’s a fascinating character study of class and talent, money and family, friendship and relationships. It feels clinical and detached at times but otherwise it was…well, it was interesting. I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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