Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

A few months after her father’s untimely death in the mid-1970s, Jules Jacobson goes away to a summer camp for creative teens in Upstate New York. A scholarship girl among the children of wealthy New Yorkers, the awkward, grieving teen has trouble fitting in at first, but over the course of her stay, she falls in with a group of friends who change her life.

A highminded group of teens, they somewhat ironically dub themselves “the Interestings,” and their friendships last well beyond the summer. The Interestings follows this artistic group through many decades, as some of them grow closer and others drift apart — as some find success in their artistic endeavors, some struggle to make it in their creative fields, and others are forced to abandon the arts that brought the group together.

“From this day forward, because we are clearly the most interesting people who ever f***ing lived,” said Ethan, “because we are just so f***ing compelling, our brains swollen with intellectual thoughts, let us be known as the Interestings. And let everyone who meets us fall down dead in our path from just how f***ing interesting we are.”

Jules, an aspiring actress, eventually abandons acting for a more practical career. Jonah, the talented son of a folk icon, is driven from music by a traumatic childhood experience and becomes an engineer. Cathy, a brilliant dancer from childhood, must give up her dreams because of an accident of genetics. Goodman’s creative energy turns destructive under the pressure he feels from his wealthy parents. Only Ash, an actress turned playwright, and Ethan, whose comics charm his peers (and later, television audiences around the world), find success in their creative fields.

Although it differs greatly from The Wife in length (The Interestings is over 500 pages; The Wife is less than 200), The Interestings has some parallels in subject matter. Like The Wife, this novel places creative characters who are artistically successful beside characters who abandon their creative endeavors for reasons ranging from lack of talent to changing interests to societal pressures. In The Interestings, a group of friends are united by their creativity, but only two of the characters go on to have impressive careers in the arts. As it sprawls through the decades, this novel makes really interesting observations about art, friendship, and the envy one can’t help but feel when her friends find success where she has failed — when her closest companions grow extremely wealthy while she scrapes by.

“I always thought it was the saddest and most devastating ending. How you could have these enormous dreams that never get met. How without knowing it you could just make yourself smaller over time. I don’t want that to happen to me.”

I didn’t LOVE this novel the way I loved The Wife, but I really enjoyed it. It felt a little bit aimless at times, and I wasn’t really sure where it was going, but it does a great job of portraying lifelong friendships as they ebb and flow and change through the years. Wolitzer writes gorgeously, and I loved the way her characters developed, facing an endless combination of life situations that felt incredibly real.

If sprawling books about art, friendship, and envy are your thing, this would be a great book to read by the lake (or in the mountains, or wherever you’re vacationing) this summer!


9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

  1. I’ve been meaning to read this book and have a library copy at home, but I don’t know if I’ll get to it before it’s due! I’m wondering if I should check out The Wife first and return to this one later…

  2. I really loved all of the commentary on envy in this book, particularly envy within friendships as adults. I underlined a ridiculous number of lines as I was reading (of course) and whenever I look back, they’re still very pointed.

  3. I think The Wife is going to be really difficult to follow up. I admire writers who can put SOOOO much punch into such a small space. Those short, concise novels are sometimes more satisfying than a longer, meandering one. I have Wolitzer’s The 10 Year Nap and The Uncoupling on my TBR, so I’ll probably start there when I’m done with my The Wife hangover.

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