The Wolfs had been coming to Spirit-in-the-Woods since they were twelve and thirteen; they were central to this place. Goodman was big and blunt and unsettling; Ash was waifish, openhearted, a beauty with long, straight, pale brown hair and sad eyes. Some afternoons in the middle of Improv, when the class was talking in a made-up language, or mooing and baaing, Ash Wolf would suddenly slip away from the theater. She would return to the empty girls' teepee and recline on her bed eating Junior Mints and writing in her journal.
I'm beginning to think I feel too much, Ash wrote. The feelings flood into me like so much water, and I am helpless against the onslaught.
Tonight the screen door had winced shut behind the departing, shooedaway boys, and then the three girls from the other side of the pines had arrived. There were six people altogether in this single- bulb- lit conical wooden structure. They would meet again whenever they could over the rest of the summer, and frequently in New York City over the next year and a half. There would be one more summer for all of them. After that, over the following thirty- odd years, only four of them would meet whenever they could, but of course it would be entirely different.
Julie Jacobson, at the start of that first night, had not yet transformed into the far better sounding Jules Jacobson, a change that would deftly happen a little while later. As Julie, she'd always felt all wrong; she was gangling, and her skin went pink and patchy at the least provocation: if she got embarrassed, if she ate hot soup, if she stepped into the sun for half a minute. Her deer- colored hair had been recently permed at the La Beauté salon in Underhill, giving her head a poodle bigness that mortified her. The stinking chemical perm had been her mother's idea. Over the year in which her father was dying, Julie had occupied herself by zealously splitting her split ends, and her hair had become frizzed and wild. Sometimes she discovered a single hair with an uncountable number of splits, and she would tug on the whole thing, listening to the crackle as the hair broke between her fingers like a branch, and experiencing a sensation that resembled a private sigh.
When she looked in the mirror one day, her hair appeared to her as bad as a pillaged nest. A haircut and a perm might help, her mother said. After the perm, when Julie saw herself in the salon mirror, she cried, "Oh crap," and ran out into the parking lot, her mother chasing her, saying it would die down, it wouldn't be so big tomorrow.
"Oh honey, it won't be so dandeliony!" Lois Jacobson called to her from across the blinding rows of cars.
Now, among these people who had been coming to this teenaged performing- arts and visual- arts summer camp in Belknap, Massachusetts, for two or three years, Julie, a dandeliony, poodly outsider, from an undistinguished town sixty miles east of New York City, was surprisingly compelling to them. Just by being here in this teepee at the designated hour, they all seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness-in-waiting.
Jonah Bay dragged a cassette tape deck across the floor, as heavy as a nuclear suitcase. "I've got some new tapes," he said. "Really good acoustic stuff. Just listen to this riff, it will amaze you." The others dutifully listened, because they trusted his taste, even if they didn't understand it. Jonah closed his eyes as the music played, and Julie watched him in his state of transfixion. The batteries were starting to die, and the music that emanated from the tape player seemed to come from a drowning musician. But Jonah, apparently a gifted guitarist, liked this, so Julie did too, and she nodded her head in an approximation of the beat of the music. More V&Ts were served by Cathy Kiplinger, who poured one for herself in a collapsible drinking cup, the kind you took on campouts and which never really got clean, and which, Jonah remarked, looked like a miniature model of the Guggenheim Museum. "That's not a compliment," Jonah added. "A cup isn't supposed to collapse and reconstruct. It's already a perfect object." Again, Julie found herself nodding in quiet agreement with everything that anyone here said.
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.
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