Melinda Ott, July 29, 2015 (view all comments by Melinda Ott)
As anyone who has had any contact with me while I was reading this, they already know that I did not enjoy this book. In fact, I've said--and I stand by he sentiment--that if I, myself, had not been the one to recommend this to my book club, I would have DNF'd it.
I know, what a way to start out a review...but stick with me here
There were two things that really bothered me about this book. First of all, I'm just tired of books about the intelligentsia of New York. I don't mean the actors, writers, etc of New York, but the rich folk whose talent seems to be more due to their birth and trust funds than any skills they develop. Secondly, the sort of turning point plot line hit a bit too close to home for me as it was very reminiscent of some things going on with people close to me,
But, you see, while those are valid reasons for me not to like this book, I will admit that they are very subjective reasons. Because of that, I can't base on whether or not I would recommend this book on how I felt about it. So, let me try to take my feelings out of this and look at the mechanics of the book.
There were things that I did like this book, and things that I found problematic. I enjoyed Woltizer's writing--it kept me engaged, which is saying a lot since I didn't actually like the book. She does an impressive job of placing the narrative in time. This story spans from the early 70's to the current day and the reader always feels like they are in the same time as the characters. One of my favorite scenes was near the end (not a spoiler!) where the two elderly owners of the camp are reminiscing about the camp's glory days--I was immediately transported to the scene in Dirty Dancing where Max Kellerman and Tito Suarez are talking about how things are not like they used to be in the Catskills (and it is always a good thing when a book evokes Dirty Dancing!).
I felt the characters well-rounded, but I can't say that I liked any of them. In fact, the only character I did like was the tertiary Rory, who is fun and wild and doesn't fit at all with the her family and the other characters in the book. Then there is the issue of Jonah. There is nothing wrong with the character of Jonah--except the fact that he is completely superfluous to this book. He could be completely lifted out of the narrative and it would have no impact on the story whatsoever. In fact, there were times when I completely forgot about him--only to have him turn up and have 100 pages devoted to him.
Ultimately, if I take my own personal feelings out of this book, I will admit that there were some great things about it and some things that just did not work. Would I recommend it? Well, I probably wouldn't offer up this title as a recommendation, but if someone asked if they should read it, I'd tell them to go ahead. They might like it. Or they might not.
Kayley, October 23, 2014 (view all comments by Kayley)
Meg Wolitzer is a true story teller, at no point did this feel to me like a novel with a focus and a story arc, it felt like living a life. In finishing this novel I felt like I lived a lifetime, I had unrequited dreams, great friends, and a constant quest for what it all meant and who I was supposed to become. As a writer, the scope of this novel is mind blowing, and it also challenged me to think about my creativity and "talent" and how it may or may not follow me through life.
tangotue2, October 22, 2014 (view all comments by tangotue2)
The Interestings grabbed me from the first page as I easily related to Jules (Julie)lack of self worth. I loved how true to my experiences in the 1970's and 80's this book portrays bridging many significant events together that I remember so well.
Six friends who meet at a summer camp for aspiring artists in the Berkshires (My home growing up)captured the true essence of that very important time in my life with characters that were interesting and mostly likable. Watching them grow through the decade's facing similar fates as my friends in real life was in some ways frustrating, but also kept me enthralled to find out what was going to happen next.
I highly recommend this book to the generation x crowd and anyone curious enough to explore a true depiction of those special times that were in many ways so much easier and straight forward.
Rachel Coker, July 28, 2013 (view all comments by Rachel Coker)
Meg Wolitzer takes six friends at a mid-70s summer camp and from there deftly unfurls a huge number of stories spanning several decades. The novel touches on the AIDS crisis, two different Wall Street downturns, the 9/11 attacks, first- and second-wave feminism, folk music's retreat from the mainstream culture and much more, without ever seeming rushed.
What Wolitzer achieves in "The Interestings" is the very thing that eluded Jeffrey Eugenides in "The Marriage Plot:" a clever yet truthful rumination on the lives of well-educated, slightly coddled middle- and upper-middle class Americans. No, this group of characters is not diverse. Yes, they enter adulthood with plenty of advantages. Still, their failures (small and large) and successes (small and large) are both believable and illuminating.
You will have an easier time identifying with the characters in this book if you've ever felt yourself to be a nerd, an artsy kid or someone whose true self was only known to a select group of close friends (at camp, college or elsewhere). It probably doesn't hurt to be between the ages of 35 and 55, either. For me, fitting into both the fraternity of nerds and the age bracket, there were some moments of absolute clarity in this book. What do you do when your life doesn't match your expectations? What do you do when you realize those expectations weren't based on reality? What if you see that you can (or should) be happy with less? And what about your friends who realized or even exceeded their own high hopes? Can you still be friends with them?
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whatsheread, May 11, 2013 (view all comments by whatsheread)
Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, The Interestings, explores the decades-long friendship of five friends and their lives both together and separate. Meeting in their teens at a liberal arts camp, the group stay connected through separate colleges and get even closer as they enter into long-term relationships, have families, and start careers. Their individual paths are not what any of them expected or dreamed, but they each find success in different ways. More importantly, they remain available for the highs and lows in each of their lives. This character drama plays out over the span of decades and explores the highs and lows of life.
The fault of The Interestings lies in little things that aggravate and annoy rather than in one big deficiency. For one, the group is too old to have fallen prey to the “everyone is a winner” mindset that is proving so difficult with Millennials in the business world, and yet, that is exactly how they act. Having come of age in the 1970s, this Gen X group would have been subjected to the same tough standards and competition that defines their generation. However, they act like the much younger Millennial generation when they each take their talent as a youth and consider it a given that they will be able to make careers out of it, when the chances of that happening are slim to none - as the story soon proves. The truly interesting part of all of this is that it is not the parents who are encouraging them to “live their dreams”; the parents are actually quite realistic about their chances. Yet, the parents are shown as harsh and judgmental. This interaction between parents and kids, and the whole idea of being able to turn a childhood talent into a successful career is just not generation-appropriate.
Also, there is a disturbing trend in fiction to use a character’s full name throughout a novel rather than just once or twice for character introductions. Even after decades of friendship, it is still Ash Wolf and Jonah Bay rather than just Ash and Jonah. After a book is two-thirds over, is a character’s last name truly that important? It is a slight thing but seriously annoying, and it serves no obvious purpose. This sort of description is happening though more often in novels, but that does not mean that it is a welcome trend.
Speaking of characters, there is something quite despicable about Jules and Ash. Jules’ blind worship of anything related to the Wolf family is disturbing. Ash is too full of herself to be taken seriously, and yet, that is exactly what everyone does. She has a power that is undeserved, unless it comes down to the power associated with a beautiful girl. Her feminist career path is hypocritical after the stance she takes towards her brother’s “transgression”, and for that reason it is difficult to take her seriously. While there is no doubt that she does love Ethan and Jules, there is still a false note in each of those relationships. Forcing her friends to take her brother’s side or else risk their friendship, failing to include her husband on one key element of her family history - they are terribly manipulative and make it difficult to accept her as is.
As for Jules, her hero worship of Ash is understandable at first but quickly devolves into the absurd as the years pass. Their adult friendship also strikes a false note, as Jules goes back to her apartment and mocks everything about Ash’s new life but accepts the free vacations and other perks associated with being friends with millionaires. At more than one point in the novel, a reader asks just why the two are friends, and it is very difficult to discern valid reasons for the relationship lasting as long as it does. Jules would definitely be happier if Ash were not such a prominent feature in her life. Both girls are meant to be tragic but come across as close-minded and bitter instead.
The true heart of the novel, and the stories that derive the most sympathy, are Jonah’s and Ethan’s. Jonah is the odd man out - the friend on the fringe - but by staying on the sidelines, he manages to be the most normal of the group. His childhood tragedy is just that, and it is easy to see why he steps away from his music. He finds a fulfilling job, relationships, and a modicum of success that most people aim to achieve. In other words, he is refreshingly ordinary in spite of his talent and his musical childhood. Ethan is similarly sympathetic and enjoyable. A reader has no doubts about the fact that he loves Jules and has always loved her, and this definitely makes him a tragic figure. His success is genuine, unlike Ash’s, and his initial discomfort at her newfound wealth is endearing…until Ash tells him that he needs to start spending money. One gets the feeling that without Ash’s influence, Ethan would have been the one friend to have changed the least. Again, like Jules and Ash, there is a ring of falseness surrounding his marriage to Ash that is disconcerting. There is nothing wrong with dislikable characters, but there are one too many characters that do not ring true, and in a character-driven novel, this makes it very difficult to enjoy the narrative.
Jen Tullock takes a no-nonsense approach to narrating The Interestings . Her delivery is very matter-of-fact and distant, and it takes a while for a listener to adjust to it. In a way, her delivery makes sense as the narrator truly is a disinterested third party. Still, leaving all of the emotional context to the dialogue of the characters can be very off-putting. As for her characterization, Ms. Tullock does a decent job. Some of her female characters sound a bit like valley girls and her male characterizations have that pseudo-bass note that all women trying to pose as men use. Given the rampant use of each character’s name, The Interestings is one novel where the use of different voices and tonalities is not necessary to keeping track of the dialogue, and her performance might have been stronger had she kept the use of different voices to a minimum. As such, the audio version of The Interestings doesn’t quite work. Ms. Tullock’s performance does nothing to enhance the story, and considering how unemotional her performance is and how little action there is in the story, one would be better served reading it in print versus listening to it.
The Interestings just does not live up to its name. The group of friends have all of youth’s pretentiousness when they meet, which is to be expected, but they sadly never lose this attribute as they age. They come across as snobs, and it is difficult for readers to feel anything other than slight contempt for them. The insertion of political issues into the narrative is distracting and does nothing to enhance the story. While the study of talent versus success is intriguing, there is a considered lack of realism in this that mars this particular plot element. Similarly, there is nothing to promote a strong reader-character connection, and the story tends to plod along as it focuses on the minutiae of the group’s everyday lives. The Interestings are just not that interesting.
by Kirkus (Starred Review),
"Wolitzer follows a group of friends from adolescence at an artsy summer camp in 1974 through adulthood and into late-middle age as their lives alternately intersect, diverge and reconnect....Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era."
by Jeffrey Eugenides,
"Like Virginia Woolf in The Waves, Meg Wolitzer gives us the full picture here, charting her characters' lives from the self-dramatizing of adolescence, through the resignation of middle age, to the attainment of a wisdom that holds all the intensities of life in a single, sustained chord, much like this book itself. 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."
by The New York Times Book Review,
"Remarkable...[The Interestings's] inclusive vision and generous sweep place it among the ranks of books like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. The Interestings is warm, all-American, and acutely perceptive about the feelings and motivations of its characters, male and female, young and old, gay and straight; but it's also stealthily, unassumingly, and undeniably a novel of ideas....With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself."
by San Francisco Chronicle,
"I don't want to insult Meg Wolitzer by calling her sprawling, engrossing new novel, The Interestings, her most ambitious, because throughout her 30-year career of turning out well-observed, often very funny books at a steady pace, I have no doubt she has always been ambitious....But The Interestings is exactly the kind of book that literary sorts who talk about ambitious works...are talking about....Wolitzer is almost crushingly insightful; she doesn't just mine the contemporary mind, she seems to invade it."
by The Washington Post,
"A sprawling, marvelously inventive novel...ambitious and enormously entertaining."
by The New York Times,
"The big questions asked by The Interestings are about what happened to the world (when, Jules wonders, did 'analyst' stop denoting Freud and start referring to finance?) and what happened to all that budding teenage talent. Might every privileged schoolchild have a bright future in dance or theater or glass blowing? Ms. Wolitzer hasn't got the answers, but she does have her characters mannerisms and attitudes down cold."
by Chicago Tribune,
"A supremely engrossing, deeply knowing, genius-level enterprise....The novel is thick and thickly populated. And yet Wolitzer is brilliant at keeping the reader close by her side as she takes her story back and forth across time, in and out of multiple lives, and into the tangle of countless continuing, sometimes compromising, conversations."
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