Released April, 2013
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Jules Jacobson becomes best friends with five teenagers at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s, remaining friends despite completely different experiences in adulthood.
The Interestings was one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month” for April and I have had hits and misses from this list. Thankfully, this one was a hit for me, despite getting mixed reviews from Amazon readers. I have a lot to say about The Interestings, so buckle up!
This is a character-driven, coming of age story with a strong sense of time and place (Nixon 70’s, AIDS era 80’s, NYC, etc). The book begins when the central characters (Jules, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, and the brother/sister duo of Ash and Goodman Wolf) meet at Spirit-in-the-Woods summer camp for the arts. During this section, the characters actually annoyed me and I didn’t think I was going to like the book because of it. They struck me as trying too hard to be “artsy” and “different” and they also had the Dawson’s Creek way of talking about things that are way above the heads of your average teenager.
However, the characters do mature and become more likable in adulthood and I ended up being completely invested in them as the book went on. I particularly loved Dennis, who becomes a central character later in the book, as he was the opposite of everything that initially annoyed me about the central characters. He provides the “outsider view” and has such a reasonable, normal perspective on the sometimes ridiculous goings on of the “camp crowd”.
Jules’ narration is also fantastic – she offers funny, spot-on commentary of people and situations and is incredibly honest; matter of factly describing things people probably think, but would never dare say aloud.
The Wolf family itself is a compelling, if not totally likable character – they are outgoing and social and have that inexplicable quality that draws others into their orbit, but they also have internal demons and flawed relationships with each other. It’s perfect that all the kids call the Wolf’s NYC apartment The Labyrinth.
After the first summer at camp, the story flashes forward to present day (around 2009) and you actually find out where some of the characters ended up in life…keep in mind, this is very early in the book. I was worried this would take the suspense out of the story, but I was actually dying to find out the details of how they ended up where they did. With other characters, Wolitzer gradually releases bits of information like teasers. I actually loved this combination and I think it created a good amount of suspense in a book that is not a typical “page turner” story.
The adulthood portion of the book deals with themes that many childhood friendships face. How do you maintain closeness despite growing in different directions and having different priorities (family, career, level of success, etc)? How do you handle lifestyle differences when friends end up at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum? Can a friendship survive the emotions associated with that (jealousy, guilt, awkwardness)? How does the addition of a spouse change your relationship with your friends? I’m currently in the early stages of settling into adulthood (many peers have families, are settling into career choices, and are figuring out how they want to live their lives) and found these themes incredibly relatable.
Finally, the writing flowed and soothed…almost (but not quite!) as well as John Irving’s or Pat Conroy’s. The combination of great writing, fantastic characters, and relatable themes makes The Interestings a book that I always looked forward to picking up again – not because I just had to know what happens next, but because I always looked forward to sinking back into these people’s world. The Interestings is going on my Book Club Recommendations and 2013 Summer Reading lists.