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Summary and book reviews of The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings

by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer X
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2014, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 successful—true 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.

ONE

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Think about how talent is presented in the book. In your opinion, is it something you are born with or something you work hard to achieve? What is Meg Wolitzer saying about early talent? How is it important to future success? What roles do money and class play in fostering talent? Think about Jules and Ash. How does money influence the trajectories of their lives?

  2. Jealousy is referred to in the book as being "I want what you have," whereas envy is "I want what you have, but I also want to take it away so you can't have it." Who is jealous in this book? Who is envious? Can jealousy become envy? How is envy tied up in issues like talent and money?

  3. Single parents, lost parents, and absent parents play a role in this ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review (578 words).

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(Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
A victory . . . The Interestings secures Wolitzer's place among the best novelists of her generation. . . . She's every bit as literary as Franzen or Eugenides. But the very human moments in her work hit you harder than the big ideas. This isn't women's fiction. It's everyone's.

Publishers Weekly
While Wolitzer (The Ten-Year Nap) is adept at switching between past and present, and showing the different fears that dog Jules at different ages, the problem is that the Interestings are never quite as interesting as this 464-page look at them requires them to be.

Booklist
Despite being rooted in a wealth of pop-cultural references, from Nixon's resignation to the Moonies to Wall Street scandals and even the aftermath of 9/11, Wolitzer's clique of narcissistic friends turns out to be not so interesting after all.

Library Journal
The novel skips back and forth, revealing information about each member of the group and covering their triumphs and tragedies over the course of the years. Ultimately, the work hits its own ironic note: Julie's successful and creative friends are far more normal than she'd ever realized. This is certain to attract readers of literary and smart women's fiction.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era.

Author Blurb Jeffrey Eugenides
The wit, intelligence, and deep feeling of Wolitzer's writing are extraordinary and The Interestings brings her achievement, already so steadfast and remarkable, to an even higher level.

Reader Reviews

Jeanh

Not that interesting
I stopped halfway through this book, which I never do. It wasn't the writing; that was quite good. It was the characters, who whined and moaned through their (mostly) privileged lives. I'm sorry, but I've read this story line before...and if it ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

New York City in the 1970s

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).

New York City subway car in the 1970s 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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