Even though it has garnered a lot of praise, it took me a long time to get around to reading Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, The Interestings. If this book is at the bottom of your to-be-read pile, bump it to the top. Now. The Interestings is a decades spanning roller coaster ride. I absolutely couldn't put it down and now that I've finished reading it, it hasn't left my mind.
The Interestings follows five friends who meet at an arts centric summer camp in the 1970's. Although the story follows all of the characters, the primary focus is on Jules, a teenager who has just lost her father to cancer. She attends the camp on a scholarship and is immediately swept up in the lives of kids who come from privileged backgrounds and in her mind, are much more creative and interesting than average people. Jules keeps in close contact with her friends from camp and becomes even closer to them as she enters adulthood and moves to New York City.
Her two strongest friendships from camp are Ash and Ethan, a married couple. Naturally, this isn't as simple as it sounds. Ethan initially had a crush on Jules and even though she turned him down, he is not far from her mind. Ethan ends up having huge success in his twenties as the creator of a Simpsons-esque animation series. As Jules is lacking financial security and married to a husband who has severe depression, she often wonders about the road not taken with Ethan. Jules is plagued by extreme jealousy towards Ash and Ethan, who are not only rich, but also seem to lead more interesting, cultured lives.
Added to the mix are Jonah and Goodman. Jonah is another camp friend, who is the son of a famous folk singer. Although he longs to be a musician, his talents are shuttered by a childhood trauma. Goodman is Ash's brother and although he seems to have every opportunity for success, he makes a very bad decision in his late teens that changes the course his life and greatly affects the lives of his family and friends.
This was my first Wolitzer novel, but I'm sold on her skills as a writer. This story was engaging and affecting. It had such vibrant and well-rounded characters that I felt like I was reading about people I know. The story goes unexpected directions. It was also a good indictment on what our society values, showing a truth that is not very flattering, but one that is honest. There are so many layers to this story and its characters, that I can't stop thinking about it.
Simply put, a really fabulous novel by a new-to-me author. I can't wait to discover more stories by Wolitzer. She's a powerhouse.