Thursday, August 15, 2013
I've had Meg Wolitzer books sitting on my shelf awhile, but something about the latest, The Interestings, caught my attention. And while you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, this one is particularly attractive. The scenario isn't necessarily original--the lives of a disparate group of teenagers who become unlikely friends and stay close into adulthood. In this case, the group meets in the early seventies at a camp for artsy kids. While this is something of an ensemble cast, Julie Jacobson (who become Jules her first summer) emerges as the protagonist. She ends up at the camp right after her father dies in his forties from pancreatic cancer. A teacher manages to help her go on scholarship, and while there, she is included in a small circle of teens she would normally consider out of her league. The most charismatic of the group, Ash Fox, who attends the camp with her underachieving brother Goodman, becomes Jules best friend.
Also in the circle are Ethan Figman, already a prodigy at fifteen, an unattractive but personal boy with a talent for drawing a cartoon he calls Figland. While he is drawn to Jules, she keeps their relationship in the friend zone. Also in the group are Jonah Bay, the son of a famous folk singer, talented himself, but carrying a burdensome secret placed on him by one of his mother's former singing partners. Rounding out the group is Kathy Kiplinger, a talented dancer already growing into too womanly a body for a future career.
Woltizer follows the teens as they maintain their friendship between camp summers, usually meeting at the Fox's New York City home, the Labyrinth. An incident between Goodman and Kathy ends up changing their lives and the nature of their relationships.
Wolitzer sheds light on what happens to people living in the shadow of those they perceive as having it all. Jules and her husband--not one of the circle of Interestings--live ordinary lives, sometimes touched by depression, and often by envy, particularly of Ethan and Ash. Ironically, these two, while financially successful, have to deal with a special needs child and with several family crises.Wolitzer also deals with the effect of secrets kept from marriage partners.
While she touches on lots of current events and social issues, Wolitzer primarily focuses on human relationships, love, and trust.