Growing up, teenagers experience a mixed bag of emotions, most of them centered on their individual place in this world. In Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, “The Interestings,” we come to know a cast of characters who demonstrate a profound message of individualism, acceptance and, more importantly, the life they lived to become that person.
The novel opens in 1974 at a progressive and artsy summer camp, Spirit-in-the-Woods, located on the East Coast in the Berkshire Mountains. Readers are introduced to characters Ethan Figman, Jonah Bay, Cathy Kiplinger, and Ash and Goodman Wolf, who dub their group The Interestings. However, the summer becomes all that much more fascinating when they initiate outsider Jules Jacobsen into the group. Though vastly unique in their creative abilities, these six characters band together through thick and thin.
While each member of the group shares his or her story, it is perhaps Jules who is the most pivotal of all. Always pensive, Jules pondered her place in the group, the members and even its name: “The name was ironic, and the improvisational christening was jokily pretentious, but still, Julie Jacobsen thought, they were interesting. These teenagers all around her, all of them from New York City, were like royalty and French movie stars, with a touch of something papal. Everyone at this camp was supposedly artistic, but here, as far as she could tell, was the hot little nucleus of the place.” Indeed, The Interestings provide the most fun in the book, coming in and out of the novel like brilliant patchwork — colorful and neatly assembled.
Meanwhile, as readers gain more insight regarding the group, the backdrop becomes ever present as politics, war and human rights become predominant themes in The Interestings’ maturing world. Something that separates this novel from most coming-of-age works is that Wolitzer follows The Interestings throughout a course of four decades. Throughout nearly 500 pages, the characters’ lives culminate as an assortment of happy, ordinary and sad endings. Even considering the timeframe, each of their narratives becomes fluid, flowing freely with veracity and force.
The novel teaches readers that life is a series of unexpected events that can make or break us if we so choose. Wolitzer does well to give us a very insightful and realistic look into those tough choices. While the ending is somber, the overall message throughout the novel is hopeful. More than ever, “The Interestings” express that while we may experience turbulent times, our inspiration, humor and friendships can help us overcome even the worst of situations.
‘The Interestings’ by Meg Wolitzer Rating: W W W W V