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Book review: The Interestings, By Meg Wolitzer
A summer-camp alliance sets the course for lives that intersect across decades of change
Friday 30 August 2013
On a warm night in 1974, six teenagers gather in a teepee at an exclusive New England summer camp. They will be companions for life. Sitting in the shadows is Jules Jacobson, a suburban 15-year old who can't quite believe she's been included. Her fellow campers seem like "royalty and French movie stars with a touch of something papal". Giddy on Günter Grass, the group decide to christen themselves The Interestings, "because we are just so fucking compelling, our brains swollen with intellectual thoughts".
Meg Wolitzer has been entertaining us with her humorous and hyper-smart fiction for over three decades. Many of her previous novels have discussed the fall-out of the sexual revolution on the succeeding generation. In this expansive ninth work, she boldly tracks the fate of a band of friends, asking what happens when life's imagined trajectory goes wildly off-piste.
Jules's most intense friendship over that "long-evaporated" summer is with the "unusually ugly" Ethan Figman – a genius at animation who will later create a Simpsons-style hit. Best friend Ash Wolf, an ethereal Manhattanite and auteur of one-act plays, is dating gentle guitarist Jonah, son of a folk-star mother. The Interestings have changed Jules's life, but the burden of "promise" will prove weighty.
Wolitzer moves her characters confidently through the decades, reprising the Reagan era, the emergence of Aids, and an ever-changing New York in all its "unlivable, unleaveable" glory. Fast-forward to the 1980s and the group has been reconfigured. Wildly successful Ethan is married to Ash, while Jules, having abandoned her acting ambitions, is shacked up in a rinky-dink apartment with Dennis, an ultrasound technician with a rogue depressive gene.
Sex, money, jealousy and failure of nerve are all here. Just because the novel will make you laugh doesn't mean that Wolitzer should not deserve a place in the tepee alongside more established literary hard-hitters. Jules comes to the realisation that she no longer needs to be "the one who wrote and starred in the play that got the standing ovation". Luckily for us, Wolitzer has ignored her own advice.
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