The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's about unrequited love. But not exactly. It's about art. Well yes . . . but no. It's about that elusive idea of talent. Yes, although not entirely.
Okay, so The Interestings is about all of those things, and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Adolescence. Jealousy. Growing up. The pursuit of "happiness." Family. Parenthood. But in the end, it is about characters. The book jacket mentions six characters, but only four really hold the story together, and in fact, I'd argue that one of those four was somewhat superfluous to the crux of the story, which is the entwined and slowly transforming nature of these friends' relationships with one another as they grow from teenagers to adults.
If I'd read this story ten years ago, I'd have put it down within the first fifty pages and announced, "Snoozefest!" However, as a young woman turning thirty in a few brief months (in which case, do I still get to call myself "young"?), and as someone who has wrestled with--and continues to wrestle with--the ideas of "success" and "happiness,"I absolutely adored this book. I related to the two central characters, Ethan and Jules, on levels so deep that Wolitzer might as well have been writing about me. In particular, Jules' feelings throughout the novel--of relief at being accepted and transformed by this group of incredible, unlikely friends; of conflicted jealousy when people she loves become wildly successful; of dissatisfaction and powerlessness and frustration at her life circumstances; of excitement at the prospect of a new adventure--really hit home. I am that character, the one who has a perfectly fine life and yet cannot seem to just be contented with it, and there never seems to be that moment of "realization" or "enlightenment" for either of us, after which we can go on being happy and seeing life through rose-colored glasses. We are much too aware of the choices life presents, and our accountability as we make those choices, and the effects they will (and do) have.
If I were to criticize this book in any way, I'd say that it is just too literal. It mirrors real life too closely, so that we, the reader, never get any sense of escapism. We don't get to be transported to some magical work where things work out for the hero and heroin and the soulmates get to be together in the end and everyone is happy. But I guess that's also what I loved so much about this book: Wolitzer "gets" real life. She understands what it feels like to be human and replicates that experience on the page with an insight and bluntness that I really, really admire.
I'll finish this review off with a quote from the novel, just so you can get a sense of what I mean when I use words like "insight" and "bluntness".
". . . trying to find closure, that impossible thing that no one had ever really experienced in life, because there always seemed to be a little aperture, a slit of light."
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