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Meg Wolitzer: The Interestings (2013)

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interestings The Interestings was part of my Christmas reading this year, so it’s been a while since I’ve read it. That maybe says a lot about how I felt about the book. There’s no denying it, I found this novel interesting and entertaining, but it didn’t exactly wow me either.

It traces the lives of a group of people who meet at “Spirit in the Woods”, a summer camp for artistically gifted children. The protagonist, Jules (her real name is Julie, but she ditches it at camp for the much more intriguing Jules and it sticks), is taken into the group of the most “interesting” camp participants, hence the name “The Interestings”. The novel follows their diverging paths that take them down different routes, from Ethan, who becomes a highly successful animator and creates a TV show called Figland (the Simpsons spring to mind), to Goodman who is the one everyone gravitates towards initially but who goes on to become an extremely shady character and probably even a rapist (this is never completely resolved as Goodman denies it, but it’s very strongly insinuated). I suppose one of the key aspects that intrigued me about The Interestings is the way it inverts the characters’ standing. Ethan, who is initially the socially awkward type turns out to become the most successful artist, while Goodman becomes a fugitive marked by drugs, alcohol, and a complete lack of self control. There are also elements of feminism and social criticism I found very interesting.

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that either I’m too European for The Interestings, or The Interestings is too American for me, whichever way you prefer to look at it. Meg Wolitzer seems to have gone out with the goal of writing something with potential to become a Great American Novel, and she certainly does a great job of analysing the evolution of US society over several decades. As a European, it seemed to me that I might not be the book’s key audience, and it showed. The second thing is, I might be too young for this book to really strike a chord. As a European child of the 80s, I can absolutely see why someone who’s lived through the same time period – from the 70s to today – in the US would love this novel and recognise their own experiences in many of its aspects. I didn’t, and so I found it interesting (how many more times can I say “interesting” about a book called The Interestings?!) and engaging, but it didn’t mesmerise me.

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Author: bettinathenomad

Nomadic fan of books, food, the outdoors, and water. International Relations geek. Chlorine is my perfume.

7 thoughts on “Meg Wolitzer: The Interestings (2013)

  1. Sounds “interesting” hehe sorry, couldn’t resist. Great post. Hope you check out my debut novel, THE WAITING ROOM 🙂

  2. I’ve heard some good things about this novel, but your review convinces me that I wouldn’t be wowed by it either. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

  3. I sometimes also have that feeling of being too European as well, even with all the American stuff on tv, movies and music. Ready Player One, for instance, lost me in many ways, even though I though I’d been exposed to a lot of American culture as a Portuguese kid in the 80s.

    • I agree, as a European kid you’re automatically exposed to a lot of American culture and events. And yet as you said, greater proximity (age-wise and cultural) often helps, especially with this kind of novel. I had the same problem with Jonathan Franzen’s “Corrections”, for example.

  4. Nice review, Bettina. Glad to know that you liked Meg Wolitzer’s book, though you didn’t love it. I remember wanting to read it sometime back when I first heard about it, because the theme sounded quite interesting – following the life of artistic students who first meet at camp. But somehow I never got around to getting the book. It was interesting how two of the characters turned out very differently than expected – Ethan and Goodman. I liked very much what you said about how the book inverts the characters’ standings.

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