The Interestings

( 77 )

Overview

“Remarkable . . . With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself.”—The New York Times Book Review

"A victory . . . The Interestings secures Wolitzer's place among the best novelists of her generation. . . . She's every bit as literary as Franzen or Eugenides. But the very human moments in her work hit you harder than the big ideas. This isn't women's fiction. It's everyone's."—Entertainment Weekly (A)

The New York Times–bestselling novel by ...

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Overview

“Remarkable . . . With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself.”—The New York Times Book Review

"A victory . . . The Interestings secures Wolitzer's place among the best novelists of her generation. . . . She's every bit as literary as Franzen or Eugenides. But the very human moments in her work hit you harder than the big ideas. This isn't women's fiction. It's everyone's."—Entertainment Weekly (A)

The New York Times–bestselling novel by Meg Wolitzer that has been called "genius" (The Chicago Tribune), “wonderful” (Vanity Fair), "ambitious" (San Francisco Chronicle), and a “page-turner” (Cosmopolitan), which The New York Times Book Review says is "among the ranks of books like Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot."

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Liesl Schillinger
The Interestings'…inclusive vision and generous sweep place it among the ranks of books like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and Jeffrey Eugenides's Marriage Plot. The Interestings is warm, all-American and acutely perceptive about the feelings and motivations of its characters…but it's also stealthily, unassumingly and undeniably a novel of ideas. Wolitzer has been writing excellent fiction for 30 years, and it has always been this astute. From the start, her subject has been the practical, emotional and sexual fallout of women's liberation, particularly as it affects mothers and children. But here she has written a novel that speaks as directly to men as to women. With this book, she has surpassed herself.
Publishers Weekly
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. One member of the group, Jonah, is the son of a famous folk singer, and another, Ethan, becomes an extremely successful animator, and another Interestings member whose brother-in-law is accused of raping a girl in the group, flees his court date and disappears. Meanwhile, Jules, the character Wolitzer focuses on, becomes a therapist, marries a nice guy with no interest in being as “interesting” as her camp friends, and copes with jealousy and not having enough money in New York City. While Wolitzer (The Ten-Year Nap) is adept at switching between past and present, and showing the different fears that dog Jules at different ages, the problem is that the Interestings are never quite as interesting as this 464-page look at them requires them to be. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)
San Francisco Chronicle
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.
The Wall Street Journal
This is The Interestings at its best, when it is guided by the author's quiet wisdom and takes you to its revelations the way that philosophers will unobtrusively steer their students toward truths while letting them think they had gotten there on their own.
New York Times Book Review
...a remarkable novel whose inclusive vision and generous sweep place it among the ranks of books like Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom' and Jeffrey Eugenides' 'Marriage Plot.' 'The Interestings' is warm, all-American and acutely perceptive about the feelings and motivations of its characters, male and female, young and old, gay and straight; but is also stealthily, unassumingly and undeniably a novel of ideas. Wolitzer has been writing excellent fiction for 30 years and it has always been this astute...But here she has written a novel that speaks as directly to men as women. With this book she has surpassed herself. Don't just call her exceptional.
Kirkus Reviews
Wolitzer (The Uncoupling, 2011) 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 at Camp Spirit-in-the-Woods in upstate New York. 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. While still in high school, Cathy and Goodman break up in disastrous fashion; they both disappear from the group but not without causing permanent repercussions. For one thing, to Jules' surprise, Goodman's grieving sister Ash and Ethan become an unlikely but devoted couple. Jonah, who evolves as the inevitable sympathetic gay character in a novel tracing social mores through the last decades of the 20th century, gives up music for engineering. Ash becomes a feminist director and marries Ethan, the true genius of the group, who experiences major creative and financial success with his long-running animated series. Jules, who has given up acting to become a therapist and has married sweet but unambitious Dennis, tries not to envy her friend's success. 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.
The Barnes & Noble Review

"The past is so tenacious," the most talented of the ironically self- proclaimed "Interestings," who bond as teenagers at an arts camp in Meg Wolitzer's wise and expansive ninth novel, comments decades later. "Everyone has basically one aria to sing over their entire life," he adds.

Since the publication of her powerful fifth novel, The Wife, in 2003 — about a woman who channels her own superior talent into her husband's literary career — Wolitzer has been hitting one high note after another in her ongoing exploration of what constitutes a successful life, particularly for women. Filled with characters whose problems are so familiar you feel you might know them, Wolitzer's novels provide perfect fodder for reading groups, raising questions about the balance of career and personal life, ambition, money, sex, and parenting.

Her impressive run of books in the last decade includes The Position, about the repercussions of a bestselling Joy of Sex–type manual on the authors' grown children; The Ten-Year Nap, about stay-at-home moms wondering how they landed where they are despite their mothers' feminist struggles; and, most recently, The Uncoupling, about what happens in a small town when all the women involved in a school production of Aristophanes' Lysistrata eschew sex.

Wolitzer has been working at a fever pitch clearly on a mission to write her way out of what she regards as the women's lit ghetto. In her much-discussed 2012 New York Times Book Review essay, "The Second Shelf," Wolitzer complained that female novelists don't get the same attention and respect as their male counterparts — even when male authors write domestic fiction, such as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. She notes that the differences begin with book size (women's self-edited, slim volumes versus men's doorstoppers) and extend to jacket design (illustrations of laundry hanging on a line versus abstract graphics with author and title trumpeted in bold block letters).

Well, The Interestings announces itself as a big book from the get-go, with its bold, eye-catchingly striped cover and substantial heft. But its increased weightiness isn't just about packaging: it is also a matter of expanded scope and ambition. Wolitzer follows her six main characters from their teens in 1974 through their fifties in 2012, as they try to grasp the puzzling relationship between promise, talent, money, success, sadness, power, love, and luck. Her novel is filled with sharp and often witty observations — not only observing how life "took people and shook them around" but also marking societal changes over a span that encompasses Nixon's resignation, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, and an increased focus on finance. "Since when did 'portfolio' start to refer to money, not artwork? It's like the way if someone's an analyst, it no longer means they're a Freudian, it means they study the stock market," her protagonist observes.

Aspects of The Interestings strike familiar chords. After all, there's nothing new about a group of teens, intoxicated with their recent discovery of irony and wry wit, "gathering because the world was unbearable, and they themselves were not." Wolitzer captures the cocky "assumption of eventual greatness" that draws them together, before they are knocked down several pegs by often sobering realities: financial and romantic woes, lives poleaxed by illness, developmental disabilities, self-destructive siblings, and deaths that strike out of nowhere.

At the center of The Interestings is Julie Jacobson, who quickly morphs into the far edgier "Jules." This aspiring comic actress and "short-sedered Jew" attends the hippie-inflected Spirit- in-the-Woods arts camp in Massachusetts on scholarship the summer after her father dies at forty-two of pancreatic cancer. The lone middle-class Long Islander among more sophisticated New Yorkers, Jules never quite shakes the sense that she's an outsider. It's a feeling that's later exacerbated by her choice of husband (an ultrasound technician) and fallback career (social work therapist), though the enduring friendships she makes in overheated Teepee 3 during her first summer at camp change her life irrevocably.

Among the Interestings are beautiful, rich Ash Wolf, an aspiring stage director, and her handsome, arrogant ne'er-do-well brother, Goodman, whose parents' sprawling Central Park West apartment becomes the group's off-season headquarters and a seductive home-away-from-home for those from less robust families. These include the talented gay son of a famous Joan Baez-like folksinger who's been traumatized by one of his single mother's colleagues, and the homely but extraordinarily gifted cartoonist Ethan Figman, the only child of perpetually squabbling divorced parents.

Along with the unpredictability of converting talent into success, Wolitzer explores the baffling arbitrariness of physical attraction. Jules repeatedly rejects Ethan's advances, though they bond as soul mates for life. Wolitzer explains, "She'd valued him highly, but she just hadn't wanted him." It's a decision Jules often thinks about — especially after he turns his attentions to Ash and becomes fabulously rich from his Simpsons-type animated television show, Figland, and again when life with her cuddly bear of a husband is most severely tested — but never really regrets.

The Interestings is anchored in details like the Chicken Marbella everyone cooked in the early 1980s, and rich in ethical discussions about entitlement, child labor, sexist attitudes toward rape, and women's limited power in the theater world. Its many subplots take us to Iceland, a Moonie farm in Vermont, a factory in Jakarta that manufactures licensed Figland products, and a conference of movers and shakers in Napa, California. It stresses the importance of "doing what you love" but also of doing what's needed in the world. Wolitzer's novel is especially good at capturing friendships that feel almost incestuous in their intense complexity. Like Mary McCarthy's The Group, it follows a circle of friends over the unpredictable arc of their lives, and like Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, it captures the vagaries of chance and health and the sense of responsibility to close friends even as it addresses the jealousies that can arise between them. Martha McPhee's Dear Money, about a writer fed up with living hand-to-mouth who accepts a Pygmalion-type dare to become a high-flying bond trader, is another novel that dramatizes how the career choices we make affect our lives, though it takes the toxicity of financial envy among friends even further. Readers may also enjoy comparing The Interestings with Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, which shares its Manhattan setting and concerns three ambitious, entitled graduates of Brown (which happens to be Wolitzer's alma mater as well) who are convinced of their own importance as they approach their thirties and 9/11.

The Interestings isn't perfect. Wolitzer's repeated roll calls of her characters' names and sometimes perfunctory, excessively expository updates of their stories are occasionally wearying. Inevitably, some narrative strands are more engrossing than others, but it's ironic that two of the three lead women — Ash and her brother's ex-girlfriend, Cathy — get short shrift in this engaging, operatic tale. I initially questioned Wolitzer's early break with chronology, fast-forwarding thirty-five years in her characters' lives in her second and third chapters before circling back to the 1970s, a move that seemed to undercut suspense. While her eagerness to let us know that her book wouldn't stay focused on teenagers and to make sure we look out for the right things as we proceed came to make sense, it's a tricky, gutsy narrative ploy that bears closer scrutiny.

And so, too, does The Interestings. In probing the unpredictable relationship between early promise and success and the more dependable one between self-acceptance and happiness, Wolitzer's novel is not just a big book but a shrewd one.

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based critic who reviews books for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Reviewer: Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594488399
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/9/2013
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 15,716
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer’s previous novels include The Wife, The Position, The Ten-Year Nap, and The Uncoupling. She lives in New York City.

Biography

Meg Wolitzer grew up around books. Her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, published two novels while Meg was still in school, and weekly trips to the library were a ritual the entire family looked forward to. Not surprisingly, Meg served as editor for her junior high and high school literary magazines. She graduated from Brown University in 1981. One year later, she published her debut novel, Sleepwalking, the story of three college girls bonded by an unhealthy fascination with suicidal women poets. It marked the beginning of a successful writing career that shows no sign of slacking.

Over the years, Wolitzer has proven herself a deft chronicler of intense, unconventional relationships, especially among women. She has explored with wit and sensitivity the dynamics of fractured families (This Is Your Life, The Position); the devastating effects of death (Surrender, Dorothy), the challenges of friendship (Friends for Life), and the prospective minefield of gender, identity, and dashed expectations (Hidden Pictures, The Wife, The Ten-Year Nap).

In addition to her bestselling novels, Wolitzer has written a number of screenplays. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize, and she has also taught writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Skidmore College.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Wolitzer shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:

"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."

"I also love children's books, and feel a great deal of nostalgia for some of them from my own childhood (Harriet the Spy and The Phantom Tollbooth among others) as well as from my children's current lives. I have an idea for a kids' book that I might do someday, though right now my writing schedule is full up."

"Humor is very important to me in life and work. I take pleasure from laughing at movies, and crying at books, and sometimes vice versa. I also have recently learned that I like performing. I think that writers shouldn't get up at a reading and give a dull, chant-like reading from their book. They should perform; they should do what they need to do to keep readers really listening. I've lately had the opportunity to do some performing on public radio, as well as singing with a singer I admire, Suzzy Roche, formerly of the Roches, a great group that started in 1979. Being onstage provides a dose of gratification that most writers never get to experience."

"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...."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 28, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Brown University, 1981
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 77 )
Rating Distribution

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(23)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 77 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 21, 2013

    Sorry, but once again the hype is much more than the reality wit

    Sorry, but once again the hype is much more than the reality with this one. We lived the life Meg Wolitzer is TRYING to describe, coming to NYC in 1973, joining the arts and business worlds, having the dreams of the young in NY and trying many things. But NEVER did we speak like the dialogue in this book, or have friends like these. This is nonsense, poorly written, and certainly NOT the way we lived. I was reading portions to my wife, and all she did was laugh and say JUNK! I agree. Sadly, I got a refund and removed the book from my eBook library. Don't waste your time on this trivial nonsense, it's not based on real life at all. We had, and continue to have , a MUCH MORE INTERESTING LIFE than the tritely characterized people in this very trite book. Save your hard earned $!!

    11 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2013

    Awful

    Avoid this book unless you like trivia. "We went walking in Central Park. X made a good dinner. We got a nice Christmas card." Come on! Where is the story?? NOT Interestings.

    6 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2013

    Wonderfully written!

    Wonderfully written!

    5 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

    Waste of money & time

    Depressing trash. The author is sick to even imagine these unreal characters. I was depressed for a week after reading it.
    If you want to torture someone give them this "gem."

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2013

    It is an OK read

    The name of the book, the cover and the storyline caught my attention. However, by the end of this book I found it to be just "interesting" . The characters were not developed deeply enough for me and some were barely developed at all. Boiled own to the basics, The Interestings is a book of one girl's/woman's struggle, through much of her life, with envy and jealousy.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2013

    The first section of the book outlines six teenagers who meet at

    The first section of the book outlines six teenagers who meet at a summer camp for the arts. We get to know them and how they become close friends and begin life-long relationships with each other. This portion of the book goes slowly as a long set-up to what comes later. Everything starts to change with a serious, possibly criminal, incident created by one, but affecting all, as they begin adulthood and their relationships become more complex. And love, marriage, careers, failures, successes, etc., continue to develop the relationships of these six. And, of course, not all ends well. The story is interesting, the characters mostly well-developed, the plot moves along without suspense or speed. I will say that some of the story suggests soul-searching and looking back at how our own relationships develop and transition, how much friendship plays roles in our lives. It was good reading, but didn't fit my normal preference for more plot and a faster pace.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Enjoyable

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Sure, it is not the most realistic story in the world, but the dynamics between the friends and internal struggles of the characters are universal. I would definitely recommend this.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2014

    If you were born in the 60's this is your life

    I had many experiences that duplicated those in the book and so I guess I kept adding the missing pieces in my imagination, consequently when I came to the end of the book I kept thinking about the characters and wondering how they were doing now. The book was well written and had maybe a few points of repetition, and if I were the editor, I would have taken out about 50 pages, but otherwise I was engaged throughout and would highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2013

    Not interesting.

    Clunky and repetitive

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    So Be

    Beautifullwritty
    Beautifully written story of a group of friends traced from teenage through middle age years- Their individual and shared experiences shape who they become what they value-







    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2014

    I am so glad that so many other people have not found this book

    I am so glad that so many other people have not found this book "interesting". She is a good writer, but the characters are not interesting and neither is the story. I do not understand how this book got so much hype.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Great book

    Loved this book about a group of friends who meet at an arts camp andbecome forever friends..and for good reasons. Esp. Loved relationship between Jules and Ethan. Sad when story was over, next Meg Wolitzer book please!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    Pretty good read

    I enjoyed this book. There were parts that weren't as interesting to me as others, but overall it kept my attention. I really wanted to find out what happened with the characters and their relationships at the end of the book. It isn't particularly light and uplifting overall, so if that's what you're looking for this isn't a book for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    Only OK...

    I was really intrigued to read The Interestings and I wanted to know what happened to the characters but this book was pretty boring. I didn't love any of the characters - I really just wanted to skip to the end to see what happened and wish I did - I don't think I would have missed anything.

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  • Posted February 7, 2014

    Well Written

    No plot. Not that interesting except that the main character looked like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in my mind's eye and then PSH died shortly after finishing the book.

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  • Posted January 29, 2014

    No so interesting

    While Meg Wolitzer writes well, it is hard to care about her protagonist, Jules. She is about as ordinary and uninteresting as a major character can be. She is not even likeable. The other characters were somewhat more interesting, but I still didn't care about them. I read through the book out of curiosity about what happens to them, but that, too, wasn't particularly interesting and a letdown. I know the Berkshire Arts Camp and New York milieus, but the story didn't speak to me in any way. Why these individuals would have connected with each other in any way is certainly not obvious.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    What a waste of time

    I kept thinking the book would get better but it didn't. Boring, narcissistic characters, not one of whom is likable. I finally had to stop reading it at page 350 when I realized I couldn't care less how it ended. I give up on maybe 1 book out of 200 but just couldn't waste any more time slogging through this one.

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  • Posted January 17, 2014

    Not great

    This book is not great, but good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2014

    Not Interesting, don't bother

    Our book club chose this book because it had such a good review. We all found it very bland and uninteresting.

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  • Posted November 18, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Jules Jacobson is a fifteen-year-old who just lost her father. H

    Jules Jacobson is a fifteen-year-old who just lost her father. Her mother sends Jules to a performing arts camp, hoping to get her away from the sadness. There Jules meets and falls in with a group of wealthy, artistic teens- siblings handsome Goodman and beautiful Ash, sad, introverted guitar player Josh, dancer Cathy and witty, geeky Ethan. They become a tight knit group and their lives become entwined until an incident occurs that threatens to tear them all apart and forces them to take sides. Ethan and Ash end up together and Ethan becomes wealthy and famous, while Jules struggles financially and artistically.
    As someone who came of age at the same time as Jules in the 1970s, I felt very connected to these characters. Wolitzer perfectly captures how it feels to be the outsider in a group, as well as the longing for success and what happens when the reality of your life doesn't meet the fantasy you have created. Wolitzer confronts what happens to young people when people expect too much- or not enough- from them. We all have roles that we end up playing, but what happens when they don't match up to who we really are inside?
    The books covers much of the characters' adult lives, so we see them fall in love, start families, have career successes and failures. There is so much here, and Wolitzer's characters feel like people we could know in our own lives. The writing is so gorgeous, and the setting of New York City is the perfect place for this group of golden ones to explore life as young adults. My favorite character is Dennis, the only one who seems to be truly authentic and honest about himself.
    The Interestings has been placed on many Best of 2013 lists, including Amazon's best literature and fiction, and is sure to be on many more before the end of the year.

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