Last week also found me indulging in a novel by Meg Wolitzer – The Interestings. I didn’t like it quite as much as The Female Persuasion, but well, I’ve never disliked anything by Wolitzer. I read a fair number of books that challenge me, that make me work as a reader ( I see you Fever Dream and The Supernatural Enhancements). Wolitzer doesn’t really make you work, she just lets you get completely wrapped up in the characters. Admittedly, many of her characters are young-ish white women, who I find it pretty easy to relate to, so maybe this isn’t true for everyone.

The Interestings is the story of a group of friends who meet at a sleep-away art camp as teens and the novel follows them into their fifties. The main(ish) character is Jules, who comes from a middle class family and comes to camp for the first time right after her dad has died. She discovers she likes acting, and does try to make a go of it as a career for awhile as an adult. We also meet Ash and Goodman, wealthy twins from NYC, Ash is always praised by her parents and writes and directs plays, Goodman is always dismissed as lazy by his parents. Then there’s Jonah who is the son of a fairly famous folk singer (think Mary Chapin Carpenter maybe) and who is himself very talented at singing and playing the guitar but actively chooses not to make his living that way. And Ethan, also from a lower/middle class background, with amazing talent as an animator. Another character Cathy is technically part of The Interestings, as they christen themselves, but falls out of the friendship group after something traumatic happens. We start with their first summer together, and follow them for decades, slipping back and forth in time a bit.

The central themes of the book are really about, what does it take to ‘make it,’ why is it that some of these teens go on to be really famous for their talent, while others simply transition to other things? It isn’t just talent. But also, that magical time in your teens and twenties when you form these intense friendships. Jules’ husband argues with her on this point:

[W]hat was so great about this place wasn’t this place. … This camp is a perfectly fine place, Jules, but there are a lot of other places like it, or at least there used to be. And if you’d gone to another one, you would have met an entirely different group of people and become friends with them. That’s just the way it is. yeah, you were lucky you got to come here when you did. But what was most exciting about it when you were here was the fact that you were young. That was the best part.

Jules disagrees, but I kind of agreed. Places feel special, but ultimately what was special was the fact that you were young and everything was so new. This isn’t to say I would trade the experiences or the friends I actually have, but certainly, I think some of the power of our relationship is because we formed those relationships at this specific time in our lives.

Of course, I also really identified with Jules because she loses her dad so young, and because I have the same feeling that she described often, I don’t know what my Mom would have thought or loved, she didn’t know me as an adult:

Warren Jacobson was so rarely thought of by her as “Dad.” He was “my father” or, even more often, “my father who died when I was fifteen.” It was better to keep him at a distance, and when her mother said [Dad would have loved to be here at your wedding] in the tavern, Jules had no idea of what he would have loved. He’d never known her as a grown woman, only as a somewhat out-of-synch girl with ridiculous hair. .. It was too sad to think about him today of all days, when she was joining her life with the life of a man who was vowing to stay beside her over the years.

Ah Meg Wolitzer, you twist the heartstrings, but I love it.

Currently reading: Men We Reap