Masterful 'Interestings' follows 6 twined lives
When we first meet the Interestings on the night of their ironic self-naming, the six teens gathered in a teepee at a summer camp for artistic types are impressed and amused by themselves, confident and full of promise.
There is Ash Wolf, a great beauty; her magnetic brother Goodman; Cathy Kiplinger, a dancer comfortable in her nondancer body; goodhearted Ethan Figman, who is unattractive but a prodigiously talented animator; Jonah Bay, the guitar-playing son of a famous folk singer; and Julie Jacobson, “an outsider and possibly even a freak,” who gets invited into this circle, takes on the name Jules and never looks back.
“Just by being here in this teepee at the designated hour, they all seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness,” Meg Wolitzer's all-knowing narrator tells us. “Greatness-in-waiting.”
By the third chapter, hints of that greatness — as well as inevitable disappointments — are revealed, with a glimpse into the future some 35 years after that summer night in Massachusetts.
Wolitzer spends the rest of her masterful, sweeping new novel filling in the details of lives drawn together and separated over the decades. Her clear gaze captures the intricacies of lasting friendship, enduring love, marital sacrifice, bitter squabbles, family secrets, parental angst and deep loss. Though the story hops back and forth in time, it is rarely confusing, frequently funny and always engaging.
A Long Island kid who never fails to marvel at her inclusion with the cool New York City crowd, Jules is the novel's center. She's a wisecracking observer and truth-teller, even when the truth about her envious self is less than flattering. Ugly, kind, dear Ethan loves her upon meeting at Spirit-in-the-Woods, though she cannot make herself return his ardor.
The two strike up a sweet friendship that lasts even after they marry other people, and Jules settles for a nonartistic career while Ethan's creative star, hitched to his animated characters, ascends to Seth MacFarlane-like levels. Early in the lives of the Interestings, a shocking event rends the clique and changes its dynamic permanently.
But the core members remain, persisting as history marches forward. Richard Nixon is about to resign when the group first meets in 1974; the members bear witness to New York City's renaissance, the devastating emergence of the AIDS virus, the Sept. 11 attacks, war and the impact of globalization. By the novel's end, Barack Obama is in the White House.
Still, Spirit-in-the-Woods remains stuck in time, with relatively few acknowledgements of modernity (mainly, the addition of traditional West African drumming “in the 1980s, with multiculturalism” and, inexplicably, llamas).
At 468 pages, the novel is lengthy and occasionally lingers on small details. But the end result is a story that feels real and true and more than fulfills the promise of the title. It is interesting, yes, but also moving, compelling, fascinating and rewarding.
Hannah Sampson is a staff writer for the Miami Herald.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Review: ‘Inspector of the Dead’ tells riveting story
- Review: Coben delivers page-turner with ‘The Stranger’
- Review: ‘Lacy Eye’ an intricately plotted psychological thriller
- Women Read/Women Write Book Fest returns bigger than ever
- Review: ‘Behind Every Great Man’ gives a voice to women coupled with famous, infamous figures
- Review: ‘Goldeneye’ explores Ian Fleming’s Jamaican retreat
- Review: Adam Rapp’s ‘Know Your Beholder’ takes life’s pain with humor
- Review: ‘The Witch of Painted Sorrows’ is haunting tale