From best-selling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships.
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 15 is not always enough to propel someone through life at age 30; 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.
©2013 Megan Wolitzer (P)2013 Penguin Audio
i like to read. i like to listen.
one of the best books i've read this year. definitely on my top five for 2013 (so far).
like other reviewers, i cannot believe that i haven't heard of meg wolitzer before. she's written a ton of books, and if they are anywhere close to as good as this one was, i'm excited that i've discovered a "new" writer so that i can go back and read all of her work.
this book was so realistic. it was the story of six teenagers who meet at art camp and it follows their lives through the years into their 50s. the narrator shifts between three of them, but is mainly told by Julia dubbed early on "Jules". she's such a tender and relatable character. she's welcomed into this group of "interestings" -- without fully understanding why. she feels they are the apex of coolness and style, and that she's somewhat unworthy. from her first time in their "inner circle" (in the teepee of art camp) through the last page we see of them together, she's got doubts and questions...lack of confidence...and insecurities as to why and how she belongs.
the story is told over the years, jumping back and forth from past to present to somewhere in the middle..and seamlessly unfolds this story of friendship, marriage, success, failure and love.
Jen Tullock was, to me, the perfect narrator. she embodied Jules perfectly - but also played Ash, Ethan, Jonah, Dennis so well. She even gave ancillary characters their own perfect spin, voice and piece of the puzzle. I loved her reading of this book.
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
I debated a lot on my rating with this book. Lots of pre-release hype means that expectations are high, but this book did not totally satisfy me. On the other hand, I had a hard time shutting it off and I think job one for a novel is to "hook me" and The Interestings did do that. And, although Wolitzer was compared to Franzen and Eugenides in Entertainment Weekly, I found her voice unique - not like anyone's else's but pretty terrific all on her own. I found myself quite "taken" with her words. So, I ultimately rounded my 3.8 up to 4 stars because I especially enjoyed Wolitzer's style.
The book covers several decades and the plot encompasses major world events (first reports of AIDS, September 11th, etc.), normal individual tragedies (autism, cancer, rape, etc.), as well as a lot of minutiae, but is ultimately driven by the characters and their evolving relationships with each other and themselves. Much of how you feel about the novel will boil down to how much you like character-driven fiction and how much you like and/or relate to the characters. So I will just relate what I most liked and didn't like and I hope this helps you make a decision.
1. Male characters were especially nuanced. All the major male players were uniquely drawn - distinct talents, motivations, reactions, challenges, morals, physical appearance, etc. Meg Wolitzer's men were far more interesting than most "relationship fiction" men and much more interesting than the women characters.
2. Wolitzer uses NY City very effectively to set a tone as the decades change.
3. Wolitzer throws amazing metaphors and descriptors around so abundantly some of them slid right past me and I had to rewind to catch the wording. This woman can turn a phrase with the best of them and I paid more attention to the "set the scene" sections of this book than I often do because the descriptions were so unique, apropos, and entertaining. "This thin man in his 60's with the soft androgynous face that aging seemed to bring as though all the hormones were finally mixed up in a big coed box because it just didn't matter any more." Just one example - not even close to the best of 100's of "grace notes" in this book.
4. Fluid movement, not totally linear, through the decades as well as the shifting of POV kept my interest throughout the book.
5. Jen Tullock does a good job with voices and there is a fair amount of dialog. She can do male voices that won't make you wince and she makes it easy to tell who is speaking.
1. Female characters were amazingly flat. Ash - can't help but like her, but in the way you like cotton candy. She's sweet, pretty, wispy - never a deep thought and never changes. Jules - starts out as a self absorbed teenager lacking in self confidence, always sure the grass is greener on the other side. Ends up a self absorbed middle aged woman lacking in self confidence, always sure the grass is greener... Kathy - very little information beyond surface detail in the intro teen period. Kathy comes to a crisis that clearly changes her life enormously, but, we the readers (listeners) only hear 2nd hand about Kathy after the big crisis. She drops from the immediate circle of friends and she is never a POV character. Jules provides POV for much of the novel and I found her rather unlikable and I couldn't relate to her constant angst at all.
2. All of the characters are relentlessly East Coast metropolitan, politically liberal, religiously agnostic/atheistic. That doesn't mean they won't be interesting to people who don't share that background - and I don't share that background but found the male characters very interesting - but it may make it harder to relate to these characters. This group really doesn't have a Jane Everywoman in it. For me, the single oddest thing about this group was the almost total lack of spiritual development of any kind. Even for an atheist, some existential contemplation might be expected as one approaches middle age or deals with a personal crisis. But, other than a brief encounter with the Moonies (which seemed more designed as historical reference than character development), none of these people seems to have any type of spiritual facet to their lives. We see the physical, emotional, psychological, financial, mental aspects of these characters, but never their souls.
3. Wolitzer's amazing metaphors can get a bit contrived at times and pull the listener out of the narrative. I found this particularly true during the sex scenes. Some of the fancy metaphors/similes that Wolitzer throws out there in her sex descriptions are a bit over the top and sounded overly coarse as though the author is trying to prove that she can be cleverly earthy. (This could also be my tendency to be hypercritical about sex scenes in novels.)
4. Jen Tullock reads like she was racing someone. I have NEVER heard a narrator read so fast. I did sort of adjust, but this is a bit of a challenge on the ears. Her voice is really OK, but whoa, Nelly - way too fast
If you like a character driven novel and enjoy listening to an author throw some triple flips with words, you will probably like this book. If you are a Boomer, you may enjoy the historical walk down memory lane. If you are a New Yorker, you will probably relate to the settings even if you don't relate to the characters. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.
What immediately struck me upon finishing this book was the truth in the saying that everyone has a story. We just don't have Meg Wolitzer to tell that story. I begin with that thought for a reason...
I started this read hopeful, how could I not with such fanfare proceeding its release. A good enough start, six teenagers meet at an exclusive summer camp for the arts, each with distinct traits and talents, and form a group--a grand starting point for a novel, but not an entirely original concept. Autumn approaches, camp comes to an end, and the friends scatter back into their individual lives connected by their camp experience and the notion that they are special, they are *interesting*. How these six teens' lives progress and stay connected from that naïve summer, when they looked at the generation ahead of them so sure they would do better, have better, be better, is the story. At some point I thought, none of these 6 characters are larger than life, they were very real and almost familiar--this could easily be any group of friends' story.
Wolitzer engages us, the listeners, by creating believable and flawed characters that, as they grow and experience life, stir our personal memories. What first seemed like a slow-moving and pointless novel to me, finally became experiential and moving. You begin to watch these people like you have watched your own friends through the years. The world spins around this nucleus of friends, historical events marking the decades; you remember with them--Nixon, the soapy taste of that new herb cilantro, the first (two-handed) cell phones, the Moonies, the onset of the AIDS epidemic, the World Trade Center attack (like so many of us remember and feel "where were you the day Kennedy was shot" or "what were you doing when we landed on the moon"). You recall your own life-story along with them as they struggle, succeed, fail, have children, lose family members. The emotional landscape of friendship also becomes physical with the inescapable ups and downs--they feel love, happiness, resentment, envy and jealousy ("Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend's success” Oscar Wilde).
Where's it all going; What's the plot; What happens? ...Life happens. And in Wolitzer's hands, it happens with great skill, intelligence, and grace. That simple axiom captured by Wolitzer is what won me over by the end (because truthfully, I experienced it as a little slow and unnecessarily lengthy--but felt less that way by the time I finished). Like life, this story is made up of the special relationships and shared events, good and bad, that shape us and fill our hearts. Suggest for those interested in a contemplative, character driven novel; similar to the works of Franzen and Eugenides.
Would highly recommend this book to my late 50 year old friends. This book will be something that touches your experiences and makes you grieve that it is over.
English major. Love to read
I went to camp,made good friends and grew up on the east coast so this book was an okay read. The characters were well drawn but almost too pat and the story sagged in the middle which I believe is one of the possible shortcomings for a story that takes place over so many years. I enjoyed it and didn't stop reading it, but I wouldn't highly recommend it.
The Interestings is a traditional novel, set within the baby boomer's time setting, focusing on friendships lost and cherrished within a thirty year span. It’s not a warm or endearing story , but rather a breathtaking character study during a time when a portfolio displayed artwork not numbers. I laughed out loud and pushed the “I need to hear that again” button more in this novel than in any other audio book that I have listened to previously.
The books main character, Jules, is the best friend of the “it” couple, Ash and Ethan. The numerous other characters are on different tiers of closeness around this threesome. I relished each person's story. I loved being reminded of the uniqueness of the times.
The theme that most rang true to me (and there are numerous within) was the serendipity of life. How one thoughtless decision – one kind word – one sympathetic moment – one chance meeting – sets the path of each person’s life long providence.
The writer’s command of the subject matter and her lyrically flowing sentences makes this Meg Wolitzer novel just delicious. This is a wonderfully rich novel. Is it an enjoyable easy to listen to audio book?..... Not so much.
It’s a pity that this audiobook was narrated at breakneck speed. This lovely beautiful story will be lost on many listeners that don’t have the time and patience it takes to get involved into the story. It required my undivided attention and numerous chapter repeating to get a grasp of the large ensemble. After each break in listening, I stuggled for awhile till I could adjust once again to the narrator's frantic pace. It STILL was a book, and ending, that was well worth the credit and effort.
Even in moments when I could technically relate to the characters in The Interestings, I found myself annoyed and resistant to do so. While I appreciate the idea of a novel that follows the humdrum life of children assumed to become wildly successful in the arts, it's way too self-conscious, and the tone persists in being teenage precocious even after the characters become adults.
It almost feels like YA fiction, with a few sex scenes (which were actually well-written, I have to give credit where credit is due). I am the demographic who ought to relate to this novel and I found it far too self-conscious. I imagine Wolitzer's cache of cultural and literary references to be like a word bank she lifts from with clockwork regularity: I, too, read and related to The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds during my high school years, but the mention of it here felt forced, a nonsequiter.
I liked the reader's pace, it felt natural and excitable. Too bad the novel itself didn't match Jen Tullock's enthusiasm
This was a wonderfully written book, with pitch-perfect characterizations and a compelling plot. I found myself repeatedly surprised by the plot twists and the unexpected developments (like the way the characters' kids turned out). The underlying theme of the strength of relationships built as teenagers was fascinating--the relationships built in a couple of summers prove to be the most important relationships of these characters' lives, despite growth and marriage and fights and the rest. The narration was excellent, with subtle shifts in voice and tone to immediately identify the numerous characters, but without sliding into exaggeration. Minor characters were fun and well drawn, too--the camp founders, the Icelandic counselor, the folk singer. They all seemed real. Surprisingly, one of the most likeable characters was a husband who hadn't gone to camp and who wasn't artsy. He provided a nice contrast to the "Interestings." All in all, a beautiful novel.
I can't exactly say why I'm not interested in them- just nothing much is going on. Meg Wolitzer writes lovely sentences and the reader is good, and still, I can't get through this book. I keep trying to make myself listen to it, but I just don't care about these people. I've listened to about 5 hours--I don't think I'll sacrifice the other 10...sadly, moving on to something else.
Ultimately, this audiobook lands at the bottom of my total library audiobooks in terms of overall enjoyment. Although it started out sounding like it would be an interesting story by about halfway through it started to feel like it was too long and I found myself wishing it would end.. The narration became tiresome, despite the speed of the narrator's reading. She read it so fast that it took a few minutes for me to adjust to it but within a short while I no longer had any problem following the story,
The protagonist who is the main focus was an interesting enough character but rather predictable. Initially it was easy to relate to much of the friends and their subsequent lives from the summer they all met. As a teenager from the metropolitan New York City area myself, there were many references made that brought back memories from my own life.But after a while, there was simply too much predictable elements to the story and it became boring.
The narrator sounded very rushed as if she could not read the words fast enough. But I quickly got accustomed to the fast pace although it was initially irritating. The irony is that by about halfway through the audiobook, I was wishing it would go faster! The narrator was still reading at the same speed, but the story was making it seem drawn out.
Perhaps the problem for me with this particular book is me and my personal opinion of this novel. Most people seem to have really enjoyed it but I just could not keep interested in the story or the development of the individual characters. I got impatient with it and simply lost interest. I do not want to give others who may read this review the idea that this was all that bad an audiobook. But frankly, the vast majority of the many audiobooks I have listened to in the last few months were on average, very enjoyable and quite a few have been outstanding. As my mother used to say "There's no accounting for taste". This book was not to my liking: "one man's meat is another man's poison" EB White said, I believe. It just was not for me.
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