The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.
Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.
Dot recommended this book to me, and I’m so happy she did. I listened to the audiobook, which immersed me in the characters’ lives and gave me a sense of place that I find normally takes a few chapters (or doesn’t take at all). And while Rowell knows how to make her secondary characters sing, Wolitzer seems to know how to work with multiple main characters without anyone feeling left out or second fiddle. Throughout my listen, I was surprised by how engaged I was in everyone’s lives, even if they hadn’t been the primary focus – and how adept Wolitzer is at characterization. Interactions and other characters’ observations provided insight about our current character of focus, as well as others. In my opinion, it’s rare for an author to do this so well and so consistently throughout a novel.
I do, however, have to add an imaginary asterisk to this review. See, after I finished it I recommended it (with much fanfare) to my mother. She couldn’t even finish it! In her words, “perhaps it’s a generational thing.” She also made some pun about the book’s title. This book is similar to The Girl in the Road, where I want everyone to try it, but I don’t think everyone will like it.
…but you should definitely, definitely try it!