Ethan said, "If my mother wants to abandon my father and screw my pediatrician, let's pray he's used soap and water after he's had his hand up some kid's ass."
"Wait, Figman, so we're supposed to assume that your pediatrician puts his hand up all his patients' asses, including yours?" Goodman said. "I hate to tell you this, man, but he's not supposed to do that. It's against the Hippocratic oath. You know, 'First, do no hand up the ass.' "
"No, he doesn't do that. I was just trying to be disgusting to get your attention," said Ethan. "It's my way."
"So, okay, we get it; you are disgusted by your parents' separation," said Cathy.
"Which is not something Ash and I can relate to," said Goodman, "because our parents are as happy as clams."
"Yup. Mom and Dad practically tongue kiss in front of us," said Ash, pretending to be appalled but sounding proud.
The Wolf parents, glimpsed briefly by Julie on the first day of camp, were vigorous and youthful. Gil was an investment banker at the new firm Drexel Burnham, and Betsy his artistically interested, pretty wife who cooked ambitious meals.
"The way you act, Figman," Goodman continued, "is all 'I don't give a shit about my family,' but in fact a shit is given. In fact you suffer, I think."
"Not to move the conversation away from the tragedy of my broken home," said Ethan, "but there are far bigger tragedies we could discuss."
"Like what?" said Goodman. "Your weird name?"
"Or the My Lai massacre?" said Jonah.
"Oh, the folksinger's son brings up Vietnam whenever he can," said Ethan.
"Shut up," said Jonah, but he wasn't angry.
They were all quiet for a moment; it was perplexing to know what to do when atrocity suddenly came up against irony. Mostly, apparently, you were supposed to pause at that juncture. You paused and you waited it out, and then you went on to something else, even though it was awful. Ethan said, "I'd like to say for the record that Ethan Figman is not such a terrible name. Goodman Wolf is much worse. It's like a name for a Puritan. 'Goodman Humility Wolf, thy presence is requested at the silo.' "
Julie, in her stoned state, had the idea that all this was banter, or the closest they could get to banter at their age. The level of actual wit here was low, but the apparatus of wit had been activated, readying itself for later on.
"There's a girl in our cousin's school in Pennsylvania," Ash said, "named Crema Seamans."
"You made that up," Cathy said.
"No, she didn't," Goodman said. "It's the truth." Ash and Goodman looked suddenly earnest and serious. If they were performing a synchronized, sibling mindfuck, they had worked out a convincing routine.
"Crema Seamans," Ethan repeated thoughtfully. "It's like a soup made from . . . various semens. A medley of semens. It's a flavor of Campbell's soup that got discontinued immediately."
"Stop it, Ethan, you're being totally graphic," said Cathy Kiplinger.
"Well, he is a graphic artist," said Goodman.
Everyone laughed, and then without warning Goodman jumped down from the upper bunk, shuddering the teepee. He planted himself on the bed at Cathy Kiplinger's feet, really on her feet, causing her to sit up in annoyance.
"What are you doing?" Cathy said. "You're crushing me. And you smell. God, what is that, Goodman, cologne?"
"Yes. It's Canoe."
"Well, I hate it." But she didn't push him off. He lingered, taking her hand.
"Now let's all observe a moment of silence for Crema Seamans," Julie heard herself say. She hadn't planned to say a word tonight; and as soon as she spoke, she feared she'd made a mistake inserting herself into this. Into what? she thought. Into them. But maybe she hadn't made a mistake. They were looking at her attentively, assessing her.
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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