We’re all sticky beaks, at least to a certain extent. I love walking in the evening and being able to see inside other peoples’ houses: not in a creepy, stand under the sill and gawk in kind of way, but just in a glancing, see how people decorate their homes and what they’re up to of an evening kind of way. Admittedly, though, it’s nice sometimes to be able to see things a lot closer up, and Wolitzer’s book is the kind that allows us to do just that in an unabashed but legal way, looking at peoples’ lives like a fly on the wall.
Reading through this story, I kept thinking back to We were the Mulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates. It takes talented writers such as Oates and Wolitzer to be able to simply tell a story: not an action-packed, seat-gripping tale, or something that imparts profound wisdom, but simply an interesting, mildly thought-provoking account that quietly carries you along, allowing you to observe a particular time in the lives of a group of people.
Readers will undoubtedly be able to see something of themselves in at least one of the characters, and be reminded of times in their own life. In essence, though, The Interestings, is a coming of age story: a tale that asks questions concerning the best way we can live our lives, focusing on aspects, such as wealth, success, envy, and genuine friendship, and how these influence the way we judge ourselves and measure our success. What truly is happiness? Can it only be achieved through excelling beyond our actual capabilities, or is it more to do with accepting what we have and who we are? No matter what we do, though, there is always some aspect of our life where we fail, some area of loss we can never recover from, and Wolitzer brings these to light.
Six narcissistic teenagers come together at a summer camp for the arts in 1974. They label themselves The Interestings, as in the misguided, self-absorbed milieu of their youth, that it what they perceive themselves to be. All New Yorkers, the new-comer, middle-class Jules, is the odd one out in the clique of talented, wealthy youngsters. With her poodle-perm, and endearing wit she becomes one of them, instantly entrenched in the group for the rest of her life. The beautiful and petite Ash becomes her best friend, later moving on to fame as a prominent stage director for feminist plays. Ash’s bad-boy brother, Goodman, is smart and sexy, taking up with Cathy, the voluptuous, womanly-figured dancer. Their falling out has a major impact on the group. Ethan, the ugly, gifted cartoonist who makes millions from his hit TV show, marries Ash, although his teenage love for Jules never peters out. Jules marries Dennis, though, an outsider of the group who is ordinary to the core, but who also suffers from depression. Jonah, is the gay, gentle and musical member who goes through life, perpetually burdened with the abuse from his childhood.
This story guides us through the decades of these characters’ lives allowing us to witness their thoughts and their personal growth or demise as human beings.