Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: The Interestings

Summary: 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 fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; 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. -- Riverside

I had HUGE expectations when I picked up THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer. I had read a few of Ms. Wolitzer's novels so I knew she was an extremely talented author, but I had also seen some fantastic reviews for her latest novel. You  might think with such high expectations that I was just setting myself up for disappointment (and truthfully, I was afraid of that); however, this novel was outstanding! I don't usually give books a rating, but if I did, THE INTERESTINGS would be an A+!

At its simplest, THE INTERESTINGS is a story about a group of friends. It begins at a summer camp for the arts in the early 1970s. Julie Jacobson, an awkward 15 year old who aspires to be an actress, attends the camp on a scholarship after the loss of her father. One evening, she is invited by five privileged teens to join them in a cabin, and the six form a unique bond of friendship. They even decide to call themselves "The Interestings." This story follows these individuals and their friendships over the next 30 years (or so) as they experience the ups and downs of their careers and their personal lives.

But truly THE INTERESTINGS is so much more than just those few sentences, and you have to read it to fully appreciate the scope of this novel. It's a wonderful story about some truly unique individuals; however, it explores all types of relationships and love. Furthermore, it also touches upon the themes of talent, envy and jealousy (these are defined differently in the book), class structure, wealth, power, and art. I can't express how entertained I was by this novel, but it made me think. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best books I've read in recent memory!

If I were to mention everything that "worked" for me in this novel, my review would be incredibly long -- even longer than my normal "long" reviews. Suffice it to say that almost everything about this novel impressed me from the story, to the writing, to the character development, to the universal themes that it explored. I am truly in awe of Ms. Wolitzer's talent. The way she managed to bring everything together in this story is nothing less than genius!

One thing I appreciated about THE INTERESTINGS were the characters themselves. They were incredibly complex and so very real to me. Julie, who now goes by Jules, is the main character; and I just loved how her character evolved throughout the novel. Jules was an insecure teen who aspired to be an actress. She tried her luck in New York only to discover that she couldn't make it, so she changes paths and becomes a therapist. The story follows her as she meets her future husband and becomes a mother, and it continues to show how big of a role her friendship with some of "The Interestings" played in her life.

I was also intrigued by the other members of "The Interestings." Naturally, all six of them don't remain close, and I was interested in how their lives played out; however, it was the ones that stayed friends whose stories really appealed to me. Two of the members, Ash and Ethan, marry and find a great deal of success in following their dreams of being "artists," while Jonah decides to go an entirely different route with his life. I especially enjoyed seeing these characters come together (and grow apart) through the years, and I found that their relationships were extremely real and honest.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ms. Wolitzer's writing. It's just crazy good! THE INTERESTINGS is one of those books that stopped me in my tracks... quite a few times. I've already gone on and on about the character development and the story, but her prose is beautiful too. I found myself re-reading certain passages over and over again because they were just rang true with me. I was blown away by how well Ms. Wolitzer captured the essence of some very complex themes and managed to express these ideas in just a sentence or two.

I think what I loved the most about THE INTERESTINGS is how it accomplished so much. It explored so many thought-provoking themes about individuals and society while also examining the role of friendships in our lives. As a result, the novel would make an excellent book club pick because there is just so much to discuss. (My group read Wolitzer's THE TEN YEAR NAP a few years back and it was one of our best discussions!) There is a reading guide with eight fantastic questions which will help get your discussion started; however, I think it's really just a jumping off point.

Truth be told, I am so excited about THE INTERESTINGS that I'd have a hard time focusing for a book club discussion. Some of the themes I'd want to discuss include the definition of art and success as well as the role of choices versus luck. In addition, there is so much to explore surrounding various types of relationships including friendships, marriage, love, parenting, and more. And then there's the concepts of jealousy, envy, loyalty, honesty (and dishonesty), morality, class structure, wealth, responsibility, and staying true to one's self. Some groups might even decide to discuss mental illness, depression, AIDS, gay rights, autism, and child labor. Whew! That's a lot of topics -- see why I'm so impressed with the scope of this novel?
I hope I've expressed just how special of a novel THE INTERESTINGS is. I thought it was an amazing piece of literature and I highly recommend it!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Beth F said...

I couldn't agree more! I still haven't quite finished (darn these work deadlines!) but I know it's going to one of my favorites of the year.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

It seems like everyone is giving this an A+!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm not sure my review would be 5 out of seemed to wander a little. But it WAS compelling. I loved all the cultural references, and how she blended in so many hot topics without it being overwhelming. And the writing was very conversational...I didn't want to stop listening. (Audio was very well-narrated). Now I just have to collect my thoughts and figure out what I'm going to say.

bermudaonion said...

Holy cow, how did I miss this book! I must get a copy of it - it sounds right up my alley!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I am reading this right now!!!! I picked it up because I loved the title and cover, but I didn't know anything else. Loving it so far! So glad you reviewed :)

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I would have never looked at this book without your glowing review. I will have to look this one up and read it. It seems to be a hit with everyone!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

Wow! That good, huh? I too would have missed this book if it wasn't for all the good reviews I'm starting to see about it. I've never read this author before, so now I'm also curious about her other books.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I really want to read it!