Reviewed by Jenn Engelbrecht, US Navy wife, stationed in London
….who just spent a mighty literary day in Oxford — this gal’s life amazes me…
I’m not even sure how to start writing this review, so I’ll copy and paste from the back of the book.
” ‘Every summer we sit like this. We should call ourselves something,’ Ash Wolf said.
‘Why?’ said Goodman, her older brother. ‘So the whole world can know just how unbelievably interesting we are?’
On a warm July night in 1974 six teenagers play at being cool. The friendships they make this summer will be the most important and consuming of their lives. In a teepee at summer camp they smoke pot and drink vodka & Tangs, talk of Günter Grass and the latest cassette tapes; they also share their dreams and ambitions, still so fresh and so possible.
But decades later not everyone can sustain in adulthood what had seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, has resigned herself to a more practical occupation; Cathy has stopped dancing; Jonah has laid down his guitar and taken up engineering. Only Ethan’s talent has endured. As their fortunes tilt precipitously over the years, some of them dealing with great struggle, others enjoying extraordinary wealth and success, friendships are put under the strain of envy and crushing disappointment.
Against the backdrop of a changing America, from Nixon’s resignation to Obama’s new world, Wolitzer’s panoramic tragicomedy asks how the ‘Interestings’ can be happy with being anything less than brilliant?
First of all, I loved this book. Whenever I talk about it (to anyone and everyone who will listen for even just a moment) I feel like I come off sounding like I didn’t like it, but I really really did.
The American cover was cool looking, which is enough for me, so I bought it while we were in Prague and began reading right away.
(I’d just finished reading four Jack Reacher books in a row.
They’re not my typical type of story, but I could NOT get enough, and I wanted nothing more than to start the fifth one, but they’re so exciting and fast paced and FUN, I thought I should probably read something a little more substantial. Sound pretentious enough for you? Yes, I often get a little full of myself.)
The back of ‘The Interestings’ says it’s about five characters, but really, it’s about three, and sort of a fourth, Dennis, who isn’t even included in that original five. I thought Jonah was a waste of ink, he didn’t really add anything to the story, and Cathy and Goodman are just sort of background noise. The story is about Ash and Ethan and Jules.
It isn’t a typical book with a plot. Know what I mean? The narration just sort of follows their lives, from fifteen to mid fifties. There’s not any sort of mystery or drama, not big conflict to resolve, it’s just them, living their lives.
(As a side note, when I was about two thirds of the way through (it took me FOREVER to read, because I was so terrified that something was going to happen to Dennis. I made [my friend] Angela tell me, ‘Please, please, does anything bad happen to Dennis?!?!’ she replied with a clipped, ‘No. Now finish the book already.’)
Thank you, Jenn!
What some other folks had to say about The Interestings:
Julie “Jules” Jacobson is the central character to the story and is extremely relatable, which made her extremely endearing. She grows from a gangly teenager into the woman-next-door, the kind of character in whom most readers will be able to see bits and pieces of themselves.
One thing The Interestings provided was a great book club discussion. There is a lot of currency to the book, with themes easily linked to today’s public conversation: from mental illness, marriage, the arts, to underage and underpaid factory workers abroad.
— The Unputdownable Book Club
The book did seem a little long in places (we travel their journey from the 70s to present-ish day), more because I think Wolitzer didn’t want to get rid of some lovely passages she wrote, even if they were unnecessary to move the story along. But overall I found myself thinking in many places how well-written it was, and how Wolitzer can really turn a phrase. I’m glad I stuck through it in parts that were getting a little slow because it was so well worth it in the end.
I haven’t read any Meg Wolitzer books yet, but after reading this review, I really am eager to get a copy of The Interestings. If Jenn got so involved in the character of Dennis, then the characters must be some that we can care about and relate to.
Thanks for the shout-out, Jenn!