I’ve always had a fascination with childhood prodigies, in particular what happens to them after I’ve passed the “prodigy” stage and grown up into the adult version of themselves, and how that particular genius can change and even disappear entirely with age. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, focuses on six children who meet at a summer camp for childhood prodigies, and follows them through the next four decades of their lives, from the 1970s to the 2010s.
There is Ethan, the overweight animation enthusiast, Ash and Goodman, brother and sister, Jonah, a shy musician, Cathy, a curvy ballerina, and Jules, the self-deprecating actress. They bond over that summer, and form bonds of friendship, that ebb and flow over the years. Jules in particular sees these friends and their home of New York City as her escape from the small town existence that she loathes. The six friends make frequent trips into the city to see each other, throughout high school. Then one winter night, a terrible thing happens that changes all of their lives forever, and alters the course their friendship will take. Jules and Ash have the burden of a secret that they must keep from the rest of their friends. Over the years the secret
becomes the white elephant in the room between the two of them. What is most fascinating is watching how each of these Interestings fulfills their potential, and in many cases how they don’t.
Ethan, by far the most successful member of the group creates a “Figland” an animated series based on his childhood drawings. His wife, Ash, is able to live off of his success, as a director of a feminist-based theatre company. Jules is proud of her friends, but there is an underlying jealousy there which colors her relationship with them. One of the most intriguing things about the novel is the way it deals with money and how it can affect friendships. There is a sharp class difference between Jules and her friends, and she feels it acutely. Jules has discovered that she is not as a good an actress as she believed, and she follows a different career path
into psychiatry, a decently-paid, but not entirely fulfilling profession for her.
As these six friends get older and start to have kids of their own, Wolitzer explores how children can also affect the bonds of friendship, adjusting the closeness of male-female friendships and friendships between their own children. Their relationships play out against the backdrop of Nixon’s resignation, the AIDs crisis, and 9/11, but these backdrops exist to place them in context of their surroundings and it never feels hokey or contrived as it might under a lesser writer.
After I finished this book I wanted to immediately pass it down to all my friends so that they can discover the sheer beauty of Meg Wolizer’s writing, and see how many of these characters they will find reflected in themselves. The Interestings achieves what all great books should- make you want to blab about it to everyone you know.
The Interestings is now available.