The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
For me, this novel was a perfect summer read, and not because it was a lightweight piece of fluff, either. It starts in an summer arts camp in the Berkshires in the mid-1970s. This is a classier camp than I ever went to, full of privileged, talented high school students. While my music and church camp experiences were more low-rent, there’s something about the experience of being thrown into communal, semi-outdoor living with a bunch of strangers at that age that’s universally traumatic and memorable. I could almost smell the musty, reindeer-flannel-lined sleeping bags.
Wolitzer has created some great characters, and she follows them from their teens to middle age. Their artistic talents range from animation to acting to pop music to modern dance; some are successful, others hang it up and find day jobs. Some of the questions the characters confront: how long do I keep believing in my talent? would my friend have made it on her own artistic strengths, without her husband’s money? if I have talent in the same field as my successful mother, can I hope to follow in her footsteps without looking like a pale imitation? Is a life lived in a more ordinary career less worth living? Envy, money, talent, confidence, age: these are the forces that swirl around the characters.
Here’s how the story begins:
On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance.
Along the way, these characters become completely real, relatable, and (with maybe one or two exceptions) sympathetic despite their quirks. I really didn’t want this one to end.
author photo: Deborah Copaken Kogen/Penguin Books Canada