The Interestings

By Meg Wolitzer

(Penguin, $27.95, 480 pages)

Who is this author?

Meg Wolitzer, a bestselling author who writes smart, funny and incisive novels about women’s lives, is the daughter of author Hilma Wolitzer, who writes novels in a similar vein. Meg’s previous novels include “The Wife,” “The Position,” “Surrender, Dorothy,” “The Ten-Year Nap” and “The Uncoupling.”  Wolitzer also has written screenplays and has been anthologized in “The Best American Short Stories” and has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and at Skidmore College. She was born in Brooklyn, graduated from Brown University and now lives in New York City.

Here’s some of what she told a Barnes & Noble interviewer:

“First of all, I am obsessed with playing Scrabble. It relaxes me between fits of writing, and I play online, in a bizarro world of anonymous, competitive players. It’s my version of smoking or drinking — a guilty pleasure. The thing is, I love words, anagrams, wordplay, cryptic crossword puzzles, and anything to do with the language.”

“But mostly, writing a powerful novel — whether funny or serious, or of course both — is my primary goal. When I hear that readers have been affected by something I’ve written, it’s a relief. I finally have come to no longer fear that I’m going to have to go to law school someday….”

What is this book about?

Every school or summer camp has its “kool kidz,” and Wolitzer’s novel follows six such adolescents into adulthood. Calling themselves “The Interestings,’ this group of artistically talented campers carry their hopes and flaws with them into middle age, and their story spans about 40 years, from the early 70s to today. Some pursue music or acting, some give up on the artistic life and others unexpectedly grow rich. But they remain friends – or frenemies – despite a divergence of fortune and the acid of envy — and it is their interactions that Wolitzer skillfully chronicles.

Why you’ll like it:

Wolitzer has a real grasp of how friendships and other relationships work, particularly for women. Her books have dealt with families that fall apart, the effects of a death on the survivors, the difficulties of maintaining a long-term friendship and the realities of realizing that one’s great expectations have turned out to be not so, well, great. Women readers in particular appreciate her explorations of the connections that make life rewarding or frustrating, and this book is a prime example of how she wisely handles this kind of story.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “In the “nefarious, thoroughly repulsive” summer of 1974, 15-year-old Julie Jacobson, “an outsider and possibly even a freak” from the suburbs, gets a scholarship to an arts camp and falls in with a group of kids—the aptly self-named “Interestings.” Talented, attractive, and from New York City, to Julie they are “like royalty and French movie stars.” There Julie, renamed Jules, finds her place, and Wolitzer her story: the gap between promise and genuine talent, the bonds and strains of long friendships, and the journey from youth to middle age, with all its compromises, secrets, lies, and disparities…”

“ ‘The Interestings’ is exactly the kind of book that literary sorts who talk about ambitious works (at least in the nonexperimental vein) are talking about: It’s fat with pages and plot and loaded with thinly veiled cultural references, relevant social commentary and emotional themes particularly envy and regret. . . . “The Interestings” kept me in a state of alert recognition of the self, sometimes delighted and often chagrined. Wolitzer is almost crushingly insightful; she doesn’t just mine the contemporary mind, she seems to invade it,” says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Says Kirkus Reviews:  “Wolitzer follows a group of friends from adolescence at an artsy summer camp in 1974 through adulthood and into late-middle age as their lives alternately intersect, diverge and reconnect. Middle-class suburban Julie becomes Jules when a group of more sophisticated kids from Manhattan include her in their clique… Her lifelong best friend becomes beautiful Ash, an aspiring actress. Ash’s older brother is sexy bad-boy Goodman. Cathy, who wants to dance, becomes Goodman’s girlfriend. Jonah, the ethereally handsome, slightly withdrawn son of a famous folksinger, is musically gifted. And then there is Ethan: homely, funny and a brilliant cartoonist. Although he and Jules are immediately soul mates, she rejects his physical advances, unable to work up any sexual attraction. After this first idyllic summer, the novel cuts to 2009 when Jules, now living a modest middle-class life as a therapist married to a medical technician, receives her annual Christmas letter from Ethan and Ash, who are married and wildly successful. As she looks back, the reader follows the evolution of the group. …. Secrets are kept for decades among the six “Interestings”; resentments are nursed; loyalties are tested with mixed results. Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era.

“Wolitzer’s latest novel follows a group of creative types from the beginning of their friendship as teenagers through middle age. Hipsters before their time, they dub themselves The Interestings, in an effort at pretentious irony, with only group member Julie Jacobson truly believing that they are quite interesting. …VERDICT The novel skips back and forth, revealing information about each member of the group and covering their triumphs and tragedies over the course of the years. Ultimately, the work hits its own ironic note: Julie’s successful and creative friends are far more normal than she’d ever realized. This is certain to attract readers of literary and smart women’s fiction,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

This interesting book can be found at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Blue Hills and Mark Twain branches.

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