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.