Briefly, in that summer of 1974, when she or any of them looked up from the deep, stuporous concentration of their one- act plays and animation cels and dance sequences and acoustic guitars, they found themselves staring into a horrible doorway, and so they quickly turned away. Two boys at camp had copies of All the President's Men on the shelves above their beds, beside big aerosol cans of Off! and small bottles of benzoyl peroxide meant to dash flourishing, excitable acne. The book had come out not long before camp began, and at night when the teepee talk wound down into sleep or rhythmic, crickety masturbation, they would read by flashlight. Can you believe those fuckers? they thought.
This was the world they were meant to enter: a world of fuckers. Julie Jacobson and the others paused before the doorway to that world, and what were they supposed to dojust walk through it? Later in the summer Nixon would lurch away, leaving his damp slug trail, and the entire camp would watch on an old Panasonic that had been trundled into the dining hall by the owners, Manny and Edie Wunderlich, two aging Socialists who were legendary in the small, diminishing world of aging Socialists.
Now they were gathering because the world was unbearable, and they themselves were not. Julie allowed herself another slight degree of movement, crossing and recrossing her arms. But still no one turned and insisted on knowing who had invited this awkward, redheaded, blotchy girl in. Still no one asked her to leave. She looked around the dim room, where everyone was mostly inert on the bunks and on the wooden slats of the floor, like people in a sauna.
Ethan Figman, thick bodied, unusually ugly, his features appearing a little bit flattened, as if pressed against a mime's invisible glass wall, sat with his mouth slack and a record album in his lap. He was one of the first people she'd noticed after her mother and sister drove her up here days earlier. He had been wearing a floppy denim hat then, and he greeted everyone around him on the lawn, grabbing the ends of trunks, allowing himself to be smashed into platonic hugs with girls and soul handshakes with other boys. People cried out to him, "Ethan! Ethan!" and he was pulled toward each voice in turn. "That boy looks ridiculous," Julie's sister, Ellen, said quietly as they stood on the lawn, fresh out of their green Dodge Dart and the four- hour drive from Underhill. He did look ridiculous, but Julie already felt the need to be protective of this boy she didn't know.
"No he doesn't," she said. "He looks fine."
They were sisters, only sixteen months apart, but Ellen, the older one, was dark- haired, closed- faced, and held surprisingly condemnatory opinions, which had often been dispersed in the small ranch house where they lived with their mother, Lois, and, until that winter, their father, Warren, who had died of pancreatic cancer. Julie would always remember what sharing close quarters with a dying person had been like; particularly what it had been like sharing the single, peach- colored bathroom that her poor father had apologetically monopolized. She had begun to get her period when she was fourteen and a halfmuch later than anyone else she knewand she found herself in need of the bathroom at times when it wasn't available. Huddling in her bedroom with an enormous box of Kotex, she thought of the contrast between herself, "emerging into womanhood," according to the movie that the gym teacher had shown the girls much earlier, in sixth grade, and her father, emerging into something else that she didn't want to think about but which was upon her at all times.
In January he was dead, which was a grinding torment and also a relief, impossible to focus on or stop thinking about. Summer approached, still unfilled. Ellen didn't want to go anywhere, but Julie couldn't just sit at home all summer feeling like this and watching her mother and sister feel like this; it would lead to madness, she decided. At the last minute, her English teacher suggested this camp, which had an open spot and agreed to take Julie on scholarship. Nobody in Underhill went to camps like this one; not only wouldn't they have been able to afford it, it wouldn't have occurred to them to go. They all stayed home and went to the local bare- bones day camp, or spent long days oiled up at the town pool or got jobs at Carvel or loafed around their humid houses.
Excerpted from The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Copyright © 2013 by Meg Wolitzer. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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