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 successfultrue 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.
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. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed to unfold a leg or do the side-to-side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here; and really, she knew, she had no reason to be here at all. It had been miraculous when Ash Wolf had nodded ...
Meg Wolitzer's ability to take a moment, whether it be a campfire surrounded by 15-year-old girls or a first kiss, and spin it out into a dozen different directions across multiple lives is the true genius of the book. The Interestings reminds readers to pause amidst their crowd of dear ones and try to imagine the far-flung futures of these people who are otherwise bound together by love.
(Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).
Full Review (929 words).
Though The Interestings spans several decades, most of the novel takes place in and around New York City in the 1970s. This decade was a low point for the city, which had been in a gradual economic decline during the 1960s with rolling blackouts, subway strikes, sanitation strikes, and riots (most notably the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement).
By the early 1970s, New York City had become infamous for crime, filth, and poverty. The NYPD was rife with corruption, and the subway was full of garbage and graffiti. Central Park was a hotbed for rapes and muggings, and far from the quiet idyllic place it is today. The economic stagnation that plagued the rest of the country in the mid-1970s was...
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