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Written by on July 16, 2013

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.

9781594488399_p0_v2_s260x420Wolitzer 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

5 comments on “The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
  1. Karen Lauritsen says:

    I LOVED THIS BOOK.

    Frances Ha (the movie) was a great pairing.

    Oh, life.

  2. Michele says:

    Color me excited for this one!
    It sounds like the stage I’m at right now, minus the artsy stuff- I’m nowhere near doing at 30 what I thought I would be doing back when I was 16. My life is pretty pedestrian and meets almost all of the social norms you’d expect *shudder*. But oddly enough, I’m very content.

  3. Jan says:

    Karen — You’re right: Frances Ha is the perfect pairing for this book!

    Michele – Pedestrian?? You sell yourself short!
    I hope you love the book. Also hope I haven’t overhyped it!

  4. Valerie Kline says:

    I loved this book, too! I want to make it required reading for all my now old (like me) friends who grew up in the arts, then struggled with their choices. While you may relate to one character more than another as you get involved in their stories, by the end a bigger picture has been painted which makes you see the beauty of each individual life.

  5. Jan Kline says:

    Val, I agree! This book has so much perspective to offer, whether you were able to stay in the arts or gave it up. And the range of years Wolitzer follows her characters should make it relatable to readers ranging from adolescents struggling to find their way into the arts, to older people second-guessing their early life choices.

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