An appreciation of the printed word (hopefully even printed on paper and bound together with a decorative cover) is a dying concept. We hope to, slowly but surely, rectify this tragic situation by introducing and discussing works, both fiction and nonfiction, modern and classic, that we feel warrant purchasing/ checking out from your local library. In other words, You Gotta Read This! This regular feature will be mainly spoiler-free. I will simply be providing a plot synopsis and the reasons this work warrants reading.
“How you could have these enormous dreams that never get met. How without knowing it you could just make yourself over time. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
-Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
Meg Wolitzer’s beautiful, devastating novel, The Interestings centers around a group of unique, artistic teenagers who meet at summer camp and dub themselves the titular Interestings.
These are teenagers who feel fate has no choice but to make their lives rich and rewarding. There’s Jules, the wryly-humored, plain-Jane and central character, her friend, the beautiful Ash, who both dream of acting; Cathy, who dreams of dancing, although everyone realizes her fuller figure will keep her from working professionally; Goodman, Ash’s brother who hopes to be an architect; Jonah, who effortlessly writes songs on his banjo; and Ethan, the schubby, gifted artist who wants to draw cartoons. The novel follows them from their naively optimistic teenage years into the more disillusioned, disappointing, mundane world of adulthood. It’s only Ethan who succeeds, creating a Simpsons-esque cartoon series triumph and marrying the lovely Ash.
The friends, and therefore the novel, lose touch with Goodman and Cathy, following an event that severs the seemingly impenetrable bond the group shares with one another. However, it follows Jules, Ash, Ethan, and Jonah as they are forced to adjust their expectations with reality. Ethan may attain wealth, but Jules and Jonah simply gain restlessness and age. Wolitzer clearly loves and understands her characters and possesses a sharp, perceptive eye for the ways in which bitterness and frustration can invade seemingly unbreakable friendship bonds, as well as the contradicting yet believable presence of happiness at a friend’s success and bitterness that success is not your own.
In the end, The Interestings is a novel about the poignancy of aging and the difficulty of accepting life is not the blissful, rewarding journey early life promised it would always be and the painful poignancy of early promised that goes unrealized. It’s a beautiful, lyrical example of a novel’s ability to move and create painfully believable characters, full of flaws and virtues. By the end, no character is completely content or completely dissatisfied. Both feelings exist simultaneously, intertwining into an uneasy, symbiotic cohabitation. Anyone old enough to read The Interestings is old enough to find these characters’ feelings painfully, cringingly relatable.
So, what do you think? Have you read The Interestings? Are you a fan? Do you hate it? Let us know in the comments!