Thursday, November 21, 2013

"The Interestings" by Meg Wolitzer

I think I've spoken before of my automatic distaste for any book described as a "saga." Not that I haven't enjoyed books spanning lifetimes or generations, but somehow the term "saga" has become associated, in my mind, with drawn-out melodrama--of the decidedly unappealing variety.

So, that brings me to The Interestings, which came up on so many "best of" lists that I felt the need to try it. And it is a "saga" of friendship, it is a drawn-out melodrama, but it's also a mostly engrossing book.

The Interestings begins at Spirit-in-the-Woods creative arts summer camp, where ordinary Jules is unexpectedly drawn into a group of "cool" campers: siblings Ash and Goodman, animation star Ethan, musician Jonah, and dancer Cathy. The story follows Jules throughout adulthood and her continuing friendships with Ethan and Ash.

Thematically, the novel hits home for many. Our concept of identity as formed as a teenager and challenged as an adult. Dealing with jealously as we recognize our peers and friends are more successful than we are. Learning to be happy with what you have. Finding and accepting your place in the world.

I enjoyed the book for the first half, but at some point, it started to drag. I think I was tired of hearing how "gentle" Ash is or how "talented" Ethan is. Or how Jules is so "funny" and "awesome" even though the reader doesn't really see that side. Or, goodness, the dragging on of Jules' husband Dennis' depression. It just felt like nothing was happening--the same feelings were just recycled through new periods of the characters' lives. And though that's perhaps true to life, it was also a bit dull.

The book also didn't seem to know what to do with Jonah, who's more of a character than Goodman and Cathy--they largely drop out of the book except to exist on the periphery--yet significantly less important than Jules, Ethan, and Ash. His childhood trauma is wrought and overdone, and somewhat irrelevant to the rest of the novel.

In the end, The Interestings began promising, despite being called a "saga," but ended a bit flat.

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