This month we delved into Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, a book that many of our group struggled or simply felt a sense of vanilla complacency with. I think I am one of the few who was truly affected by it. The novel follows a small group of artistically-inclined friends through life from their meeting at an arts summer camp during high-school, through decades of friendship with all its ups and downs and well into their fifties. Now, I seem to have made the mistake I always do where through the best of organizational intentions I finished the book just in time for our discussion (yay me!) but then basking in the triumph of that punctuality, I put off writing my review and have now forgotten everything brilliantly insightful that I was going to say…
So let me start with this:
The cover looks hauntingly similar to Dr. Seuss’s coming of age masterpiece Oh the Places You’ll Go.
Am I right or am I right?
And re-reading the text of his work, the words seem amazingly apropos alongside Meg Wolitzer’s storytelling. Read it again, it’s brilliant:
Like Suess’s unnamed protagonist, we meet the self-titled group of “Interestings” at Spirit-in-the-Woods arts camp, a place filled with the adolescent wonder of limitless possibility. Everyone there has a possibility for greatness if only she can awaken to it. This awakening is transformative for Julia aka “Jules” Jacobson, a frizzy-haired girl from less-than-glamorous upstate New York, struggling to come into her own after her father’s untimely death.Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
I’m a little sailor girl, dressed in yellow.
This is the way I treat my fellow.
I kiss him and I hug him
I wanted to kiss and hug the book for its honesty about growing up, particularly as an artist.
So I’m 27, newly engaged and while many older people would say I still have a lot of growing up to do and I wouldn’t disagree with them, I am starting to see doors close and know that there are things I thought might happen in my life that probably won’t. It’s unlikely I’ll move to LA and become a famous Hollywood actress or perhaps even a working actress of any kind. I probably won’t be an Olympic figure skater or a ballerina or any of the other amazing professions I once thought might happen. I may very likely sit behind a desk and pop out 2.5 kids and be perfectly happy, but not particularly interesting. These types of realizations are particularly difficult on artists whose whole identity and self-confidence may be forged by the idea that they are outside of these norms. Wolitzer depicts this unpleasant reality deftly as adult Jules struggles to come to terms with what she has and what she will never have, that she perhaps is destined to be less interesting than others. Wolitzer also brilliantly mixes in themes of wealth and class demonstrating that it’s not always about “having it” but sometimes about having the funds for it. Yes, we all know that JK Rowling was dead broke writing Harry Potter on napkins and that’s wonderful, but just as often as not, the artists we see in the mainstream media are the ones fortunate enough to have familial and financial connections to get there.
And I kick him in the pants.
That is the end of my romance.
For, not a whole lot really.
Yes, there are times when I navigated through passages in The Interestings that were ironically less than interesting. Much of the narrative may seem to focus on the mundane, insignificant or self-centered goings on of the main troupe of characters. However, I found myself pausing during these passages to think, “God, this is oddly familiar, isn’t it”. I have felt this way or thought this thing even if it isn’t particularly engaging or noble. Often when the narrative took a detour from the juicy section I was enjoying to follow another character down another path I would end up enjoying that journey as much as the first.
I won’t say too much more about what happens to the characters as they grow older, apart and together. The details of the novel are too subtle to truly do them justice here. I will leave off by posing the question. If someone wrote a novel of your life/my life, would you be liked? Would anyone find us interesting?
You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place… …for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.
Rating 4 out of 5 Victorian Vanity Mirrors
Where will Kristin fall on the scale of interesting to be found in the book? Read on and find out…