Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings has rightfully emerged as one of the year’s most critically acclaimed novels. A sprawling work of fiction, it chronicles alumni of a creative arts camp: as their friendships ripen with age, their respective careers thrive and stagnate to varying degrees. At once complex and a joy to read, it is the kind of ambitious work that Wolitzer outlined in “The Second Shelf,” her acclaimed 2012 editorial on the publishing world’s view of women who write literature. From a shelf of her own, Wolitzer this week delivers three stirring recommendations of great books that have inspired her work and share The Interestings‘ deep insights into our internal selves.
By Evan S. Connell
“The late Evan S. Connell’s 1959 novel is a favorite of so many writers I know, who, like me, admire it for how much it packs into a small, tight volume. In some ways, I think of this book as a perfect novel, and also as the Book of Everything. Broken up into sections that are sometimes very, very short, Mrs. Bridge follows the home life, aspirations, and disappointments of a Kansas City housewife before World War II; it’s knowing, hilarious, painfully sad, and always sharply observed. The book is a character study of a woman who strives to make her life bigger and to improve herself, and yet who is held back not only by the social constraints felt by women of her time but also by her own personal and intellectual limitations. Poor India Bridge, born with a first name that doesn’t suit her, into a world that’s becoming unmanageable. This novel is one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”
By Jane Gardam
“Jane Gardam’s entirely original novel is, like Mrs. Bridge, a “character study,” but beyond that the books have little in common. “Filth” stands for “Failed in London Try Hong Kong,” and the novel tells the winding, sweeping life story of the elderly retired judge Edward Feathers, born in colonial Malaya, then brought up in Wales and educated at Oxford. The book compresses time beautifully (it’s not very long, and yet it essentially takes in a whole life); people who have read it feel excited when they find one another and get a chance to talk about Old Filth, his wife, and the cast of characters who swirl around them over time.”
The Talented Mr. Ripley
By Patricia Highsmith
“Patricia Highsmith’s chilling classic follows the elaborately laid survival plans of a sociopath (so what else is new for Highsmith?). As usual, the author is clear-eyed and shrewd, alarming her readers a little even as she makes them ache for her most unusual protagonist, who, though perhaps heartless, is still as human as anyone, even as human as Highsmith herself, whose misanthropic reputation lingers; though so, too, does her well-deserved literary one.”