Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Margot McGovern reflects on reading The Interestings (2013) by Meg Wolitzer.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since I read The Interestings and originally penned this review for my personal blog, but it’s a book that’s stuck with me—that I still find myself thinking about and recommending to friends—and I basically want the whole world to read it, so I’m reposting my old review here with slight revisions. Enjoy!

One of my former work colleagues reads the New York Times 100 Notable Books for each year. Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings made the list for 2013 and my friend passed it onto me. I’m ever so glad she did because WOW.

I’m ashamed to admit Wolitzer wasn’t on my radar before I read The Interestings, but I’m now determined to read all her other books, and fortunately, there are quite a few.

The Interestings begins in the summer of 1974 when a group of teenagers gather in Boys’ Teepee Three at Spirit in the Woods creative arts camp. Awkward and funny Julie ‘soon-to-be-Jules’ Jacobson, comedy actor; petite and ethereal Ash Wolf, actor and director; her brother, the beautiful and lazy aspiring architect, Goodman Wolf; ugly wunderkind Ethan Figman, animator; voluptuous dancer, Cathy Kiplinger; and the sensitive son of a famous folk musician, Jonah Bay, christen themselves The Interestings. In that first summer they are still growing into themselves—full of hope and eager for the future, assured of their imminent success and full of naive certainty that their circle will remain forever unbroken.

04_wolitzerHowever, before they’ve even come of age one among them commits a terrible crime, and they begin to understand that even their friendship is vulnerable. Over the next thirty-five years some go on to live their artistic dreams with phenomenal success, while others quietly admit defeat when the struggle to make rent becomes too much. Some fall in love and some are lonely. Some have perfect children and others do not. But almost all of the group remain in touch, sharing intimacies and milestones, though also keeping secrets that test the limits of their friendship.

In many ways The Interestings is the story of every creative arts clique who meet at school or uni when everything seems possible, and then continue to meet over the years as they discover that, no, actually, it’s not that easy, but they still have each other and the memories of that golden time. It asks questions about what is art and who is an artist: ‘Could you be an artist if you didn’t have product to show?’ And is being artists really what matters to these characters, after all? There are heart-breaking moments when characters in their mid-to-late twenties decide that they’ve spent enough years waiting tables and trying to get a break, and it’s time to admit they don’t have the talent or the connections or the luck to make it. Other characters have all the luck and talent and connections, but face great personal challenges.

But more than art and artists, this is a story about friendship and all the forms that takes. That makes The Interestings sound incredibly soppy, but it’s not. Like real friendships, the relationships between the characters are long-lasting but often fraught, tested by love (requited and not), circumstance and, at times, the characters’ own deceitfulness.

The Intestings may have a simple premise, but it’s a powerful one. The characters, in that first summer, so convinced of their invincibility against failure, growing old, being normal, gradually come to accept their vulnerability and ordinariness, to understand that talent is not a golden ticket.

I must have cried for a good ten minutes after finishing The InterestingsIt is, in parts, extremely sad, but more than that Wolitzer brings you so close to her characters that it’s incredibly hard to leave them. I immediately wanted to send copies to all my friends from my creative arts days at uni, call them all up and get very drunk reminiscing.

Basically, if you have friends, or wondered what having friends might be like, you should read this book, and read it NOW.

The Interestings is available through Amazon (Kindle), Book Depository and Kobo.

If You enjoyedThe Interestings as much as I did, these titles may also tickle your fancy:

The Strays cover The Group The Secret History
The Strays by Emily Bitto (read the Lectito review), available:

The Group by Mary McCarthy, available:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt, available:

The Red Book My Real Children One-Day-Book-Cover
The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan, available:

My Real Children by Jo Walton (read the Lectito review), available:

One Day by David Nicholls, available:

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