A cartoon sprang up on a sheeted wall. "FIGLAND," read the credits, and antic characters began to prance and splat and jabber, speaking in voices that all sounded a little bit like Ethan. The characters on the planet Figland were alternately wormy, phallic, leering, and adorable, while in the excess light from the projector Ethan himself was touchingly ugly, with a raw sheath of arm skin etched with its own ugly dermatological cartoon. On Figland, characters rode trolleys, played the accordion on street corners, and a few of them broke into the Figmangate Hotel. The dialogue was sharp and silly at the same time. Ethan had even created a Figland version of Spirit-in-the- WoodsFigment-in-the-Woodswith younger versions of these same cartoon characters at summer camp. Jules watched as they built a bonfire, then paired off to make out and even, in one case, have sex. She was mortified by the humpy, jerking movements and the sweat that flew in the air, meant to signify exertion, but her mortification was immediately painted over by awe. No wonder Ethan was beloved here at camp. He was a genius, she saw now. His cartoon was mesmerizingvery clever, and very funny. It came to an end and the film flip-flapped on its reel.
"God, Ethan," Jules said to him. "It's amazing. It's totally original."
He turned to her, his expression bright and uncomplicated. This was an important moment for him, but she didn't even understand why. Incredibly, her opinion seemed to matter to him. "You really think it's good?" Ethan asked. "I mean, not just technically good, because a lot of people have that; you should see what Old Mo Templeton can do. He was sort of an honorary member of Disney's Nine Old Men. He was basically the Tenth Old Man."
"This is probably really stupid of me," said Jules, "but I don't know what that means."
"Oh, no one around here knows. There were nine animators who worked with Walt Disney on the classicsmovies like Snow White. Mo came in late, but he was apparently in the room a lot too. Every summer since I've been coming here, he's taught me everything, and I mean everything."
"It shows," said Jules. "I love it."
"I did all the voices too," Ethan said.
"I can tell. It could be in a movie theater or on TV. The whole thing is wonderful."
"I'm so glad," Ethan said. He just stood before her smiling, and she smiled too. "What do you know," he said in a softer, husky voice. "You love it. Jules Jacobson loves it." Just as she was enjoying hearing the strange name said aloud, and realizing that already it had become a far more comfortable name for her than dumb old Julie Jacobson, Ethan did the most astonishing thing: he thrust his big head toward hers, bringing his bulky body forward too, pressing himself upon her as if to line up all their parts. His mouth attached itself to hers; she'd already been aware that he smelled of pot, but up against her he smelled worsemushroomy, feverish, overripe.
She yanked her head back, and said, "Wait, what?" He had probably reasoned that they were at the same level he was popular here but still a little bit gross; she was unknown and frizzy- headed and plain, but had captured everyone's attention and approval. They could join together, they could unite. People would accept them as a couple; it made both logical and aesthetic sense. Though she'd gotten her head free, his body was still pressed against her, and that was when she felt the lump of him"a lump of coal," she could say to the other girls in her teepee, eliciting laughs. "It's like, what's that poem in school'My Last Duchess'?" she would tell them, because at least this would demonstrate some knowledge of something. "This was 'My First Penis.' " Jules backed up several inches from Ethan so that no part of her was in contact with any part of him. "I'm really sorry," she said. Her face was hot; certainly it must have been turning red in various places.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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