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
Meg Wolitzer takes the structure of the 19th-century novel, following her characters from (near) birth to their inevitable end, and throws in a monkey wrench—a complication made clear in the title: sometimes an individual life isn’t all that interesting.
We meet the six ‘interestings’ in the early 1970s at a summer camp for artistic teens. Five of the six youngsters are privileged, while the sixth—Jules Jacobson—attends the camp on scholarship and remembers this period as the most important and most interesting of her life. We see what transpires after their first summer together primarily from Jules’s point of view, but also occasionally from the point of view of the other five characters. Two of the six become wealthy and influential, two go underground, and Jules and the sixth, the son of a famous folk singer, choose to pursue an ordinary instead of an artistic life. Despite their choices and fates, all six face the same mundane life challenges we all do—relationships, sex, money, career, illness, and death. But Life Itself—with the AIDS epidemic, technological advances, and 9-11 in New York City—remains large, and grand, and interesting over the course of the ‘interestings’ lives.
Jen Tullock reads "The Interestings" with an appropriate mix of irony and urgency. In many ways, because of its classical structure, "The Interestings" makes an ideal audiobook; it’s impossible to become lost in the unfolding of its time.
I really wanted to love this book as I totally enjoyed Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap. But, I just kept reading and hoping, but it just didn't happen. The premise was easily accessible for me: gifted, Jewish, arty kids, who meet at overnight camp and become lifelong friends. But, the flipping back and forth in time and the constant changing of narrators was dizzying. I felt like a lot of story lines were introduced, but then just not thoroughly explored. And, the ending, well lets just say it was very abrupt. P.S. I thought Jen Tullock's narration was great...the speed seemed like a typical NY accent to me.
Terrible story flow, narrator read too fast and tried to hard to sound like a Valley girl.
She had a great range of voices for the characters, which made everyone very easy to identify during the story.
Ethan and Jules were the most fully-drawn, and Ethan was probably my favorite.
The characters remain ciphers: I did not come away knowing the protagonist, her husband, daughter, or any of the main players better by the end of this novel.
Let's start with Jules, the narrator. Her life is changed forever (we're told) by her association with creative, rich kids from Manhattan, whom she meets at summer camp. They call themselves ''the Interestings,'' but, we come to learn, they are anything but. Jules, particularly, is rather dull. We have to trudge through this book with her, but she speaks in platitudes, takes no risks, nor says anything that would provide a glimmer into her soul. And there were ample opportunities, such as her (best) friendship with Ash, which is portrayed as frictionless, and her near-romance with Ethan, Ash's future husband.
Ethan and the other male characters go on to do interesting things, but they, too, are not compelling in the least. Unfortunately, a bolt of truth about these characters does not come until the end - and it does in the form of a speech by Jules' husband - long after they've tried our patience.
Wolitzer seemed to be attempting to examine how our aspirations and connections deepen and change as we grow, how we pass along our dreams to our children, how middle age fixes us. All fine themes for a novel, but not well executed in this one.
She made the characters sound too whiny. But I'll blame the text rather than her delivery.
The writing was quite good in parts.
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
My mother used to tell me that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, and it seems as if a little talent may also be dangerous. The epigram by Mary Robison that Meg Wolitzer chose for The Interestings sums up the book perfectly, “That to own only a little talent … was an awful, plaguing thing; that being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time, and liked yourself too little." The Interestings explores the relationships and differentiation between talent and success, jealousy and envy, friendship and love, happiness and self-acceptance, and how luck, money (or the lack of it), and biology figure into our lives.
Six teenagers meet at a summer camp for the arts in 1974, where they can showcase and develop the talents (animation, acting, dance, and music) that make them special. In the self-centered way of teenagers, the group dubs themselves “The Interestings”, and this novel follows their paths for the next forty years. Much of the narration comes from Julie/Jules Jacobson, an aspiring actress, who attends the camp on scholarship and is self-consciously amazed at being included in the group of wealthier, cooler kids, even into adulthood. The lives of cartoonist Ethan Figman, theatrical Ash Wolf and her brother Goodman, musician Jonah Bay, and dancer Cathy Kiplinger intersect, head in different directions, and reconnect. Their secrets are explored and divulged. Jules marries an absolutely ordinary sonogram technician, Dennis, who provides some exceptional wisdom, despite or because of his ordinariness.
One of the best things about this novel is that Wolitzer writes her characters as human beings. Characters with genius, talent, and persistence are not completely perfect and completely ordinary characters have some moments of brilliance. I also love how she gives us insight into her characters’ intriguing thoughts, especially Ethan’s.
"Ash Wolf actually desired him. It seemed so unlikely, but then again, so did many things in life. Lying against her that first time, he started making a list:
1. The existence of peacocks.
2. The fact that John Lennon and Paul McCartney just happened to meet each other as teenagers.
3. Halley ’s Comet.
4. Walt Disney's unbearably gorgeous Snow White.”
Because the novel has a large scope, there are many cultural details and references. The characters discuss sexist attitudes about rape, child labor, the Moonies, and TED-like conferences. Politics, HIV/AIDS, restaurants, finance, and September 11 are mentioned, but some of these seem to be gratuitous ways to mark the passing of time. Forty years and six main characters plus peripherals is a long time and a lot of people, and sometimes the plot becomes a little thin. Wolitzer writes all this non-chronologically, which I’m still a bit ambivalent about. Overall, this novel of how we all have to realign our expectations as time marches on is a worthwhile and dare I say, interesting read.
just started the book and seams pretty interesting but I don't know if I will be able to enjoy it as this narrator is making me dizzy. why is she reading so fast???? this is crazy! so upsetting!
Sure, I'd love to hear your story....
This book takes a long time to finish, a long time to care about, and is slow to build. But even after all of that criticism, I must say I liked it. I confess that much of the reason was sharing a common youth and adulthood enables a shortcut for getting to relatable emotions. I remember many of the anxiety provoking things these characters go through so it felt as if we were going through it together.
While I avoided the "artsy" people in high school almost as much as I avoided the stoners and the preppies, it was fun to see how that small group might have turned out had they actually had talent and a leader. The characters are really complete, multi-dimensional, and with a few exceptions, not stereotypes. My only real criticism was the rather thrown together ending that you knew had to come. But, nostalgia is fun, so if you're over fifty, enjoy. Much younger than that and you may want to keep on truckin' (and if you have no idea what the heck that means, you should DEFINITELY find another book!).
Is it just me?
Truly enjoyed is book. It was a straight-thru listen for me, so that's rare. The story was not predictable, but totally believable. Loved it. Exceedingly well written.
No, Do not like the writing style
Should have waited for the new David Sedaris book.....
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