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one of the best books i've read this year. definitely on my top five for 2013 (so far).
like other reviewers, i cannot believe that i haven't heard of meg wolitzer before. she's written a ton of books, and if they are anywhere close to as good as this one was, i'm excited that i've discovered a "new" writer so that i can go back and read all of her work.
this book was so realistic. it was the story of six teenagers who meet at art camp and it follows their lives through the years into their 50s. the narrator shifts between three of them, but is mainly told by Julia dubbed early on "Jules". she's such a tender and relatable character. she's welcomed into this group of "interestings" -- without fully understanding why. she feels they are the apex of coolness and style, and that she's somewhat unworthy. from her first time in their "inner circle" (in the teepee of art camp) through the last page we see of them together, she's got doubts and questions...lack of confidence...and insecurities as to why and how she belongs.
the story is told over the years, jumping back and forth from past to present to somewhere in the middle..and seamlessly unfolds this story of friendship, marriage, success, failure and love.
Jen Tullock was, to me, the perfect narrator. she embodied Jules perfectly - but also played Ash, Ethan, Jonah, Dennis so well. She even gave ancillary characters their own perfect spin, voice and piece of the puzzle. I loved her reading of this book.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
I debated a lot on my rating with this book. Lots of pre-release hype means that expectations are high, but this book did not totally satisfy me. On the other hand, I had a hard time shutting it off and I think job one for a novel is to "hook me" and The Interestings did do that. And, although Wolitzer was compared to Franzen and Eugenides in Entertainment Weekly, I found her voice unique - not like anyone's else's but pretty terrific all on her own. I found myself quite "taken" with her words. So, I ultimately rounded my 3.8 up to 4 stars because I especially enjoyed Wolitzer's style.
The book covers several decades and the plot encompasses major world events (first reports of AIDS, September 11th, etc.), normal individual tragedies (autism, cancer, rape, etc.), as well as a lot of minutiae, but is ultimately driven by the characters and their evolving relationships with each other and themselves. Much of how you feel about the novel will boil down to how much you like character-driven fiction and how much you like and/or relate to the characters. So I will just relate what I most liked and didn't like and I hope this helps you make a decision.
1. Male characters were especially nuanced. All the major male players were uniquely drawn - distinct talents, motivations, reactions, challenges, morals, physical appearance, etc. Meg Wolitzer's men were far more interesting than most "relationship fiction" men and much more interesting than the women characters.
2. Wolitzer uses NY City very effectively to set a tone as the decades change.
3. Wolitzer throws amazing metaphors and descriptors around so abundantly some of them slid right past me and I had to rewind to catch the wording. This woman can turn a phrase with the best of them and I paid more attention to the "set the scene" sections of this book than I often do because the descriptions were so unique, apropos, and entertaining. "This thin man in his 60's with the soft androgynous face that aging seemed to bring as though all the hormones were finally mixed up in a big coed box because it just didn't matter any more." Just one example - not even close to the best of 100's of "grace notes" in this book.
4. Fluid movement, not totally linear, through the decades as well as the shifting of POV kept my interest throughout the book.
5. Jen Tullock does a good job with voices and there is a fair amount of dialog. She can do male voices that won't make you wince and she makes it easy to tell who is speaking.
1. Female characters were amazingly flat. Ash - can't help but like her, but in the way you like cotton candy. She's sweet, pretty, wispy - never a deep thought and never changes. Jules - starts out as a self absorbed teenager lacking in self confidence, always sure the grass is greener on the other side. Ends up a self absorbed middle aged woman lacking in self confidence, always sure the grass is greener... Kathy - very little information beyond surface detail in the intro teen period. Kathy comes to a crisis that clearly changes her life enormously, but, we the readers (listeners) only hear 2nd hand about Kathy after the big crisis. She drops from the immediate circle of friends and she is never a POV character. Jules provides POV for much of the novel and I found her rather unlikable and I couldn't relate to her constant angst at all.
2. All of the characters are relentlessly East Coast metropolitan, politically liberal, religiously agnostic/atheistic. That doesn't mean they won't be interesting to people who don't share that background - and I don't share that background but found the male characters very interesting - but it may make it harder to relate to these characters. This group really doesn't have a Jane Everywoman in it. For me, the single oddest thing about this group was the almost total lack of spiritual development of any kind. Even for an atheist, some existential contemplation might be expected as one approaches middle age or deals with a personal crisis. But, other than a brief encounter with the Moonies (which seemed more designed as historical reference than character development), none of these people seems to have any type of spiritual facet to their lives. We see the physical, emotional, psychological, financial, mental aspects of these characters, but never their souls.
3. Wolitzer's amazing metaphors can get a bit contrived at times and pull the listener out of the narrative. I found this particularly true during the sex scenes. Some of the fancy metaphors/similes that Wolitzer throws out there in her sex descriptions are a bit over the top and sounded overly coarse as though the author is trying to prove that she can be cleverly earthy. (This could also be my tendency to be hypercritical about sex scenes in novels.)
4. Jen Tullock reads like she was racing someone. I have NEVER heard a narrator read so fast. I did sort of adjust, but this is a bit of a challenge on the ears. Her voice is really OK, but whoa, Nelly - way too fast
If you like a character driven novel and enjoy listening to an author throw some triple flips with words, you will probably like this book. If you are a Boomer, you may enjoy the historical walk down memory lane. If you are a New Yorker, you will probably relate to the settings even if you don't relate to the characters. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.
64 of 69 people found this review helpful