Rating: 3 / 5
The Interestings reminds me of many books which were hugely applauded and loved and yet I didn’t think were all that great. I’d consider it decent, but can’t really recommend as there were so many other novels I’ve read this year which I thought were more interesting. Jules Jacobson attends an arts summer camp, Spirit-in-the-Woods when she is sixteen. The five friends she bonds with during that one summer name themselves The Interestings, and embark on lifelong friendships. Her closest friend from Spirit-in-the-Woods is Ash, who is now married to their other good friend, Ethan. Ethan initially was attracted to Jules, but after repeated rebuffs, found himself with Ash instead. And after a fateful night in New York City, Cathy severs ties with the group, and Goodman finds himself in trouble.
The Interestings follows this group of friends over decades, with copious amounts of regret, sadness, love, and challenges thrown in. Most of the novel is told from Jules’ point of view, which is the obvious choice given that of the group, she is the outsider. Unlike the other campers, her family is not wealthy, famous, or distinguished, like Ash, Goodman, or Jonah, and she seems to have no goals or special talent, like Cathy or Ethan. She is grateful and relieved when they welcome her into their group, and seems to always try her hardest to emulate them.
There are few books where the narrator is not likeable yet the book is riveting and exciting (I’m specifically thinking about Gone Girl). Here though, I didn’t particularly like Jules, which was a huge factor in why I didn’t end up liking The Interestings as much as I had anticipated. Jules didn’t have the depth in personality or charisma to carry this book. Her whole life seemed consumed with what she didn’t have; when she was growing up it was a wealthy family, and when is an adult, it is the fame and money that Ethan achieved. I guess you could say that I was turned off by the fact that Jules seemed to live a life of “what if” and throughout her adult life, was always either consciously or subconsciously thinking how much better her life would have been if she didn’t reject Ethan’s advances that summer at camp.
While The Interestings touched on many heavy topics (AIDS, cancer, rape, privilege and autism), I felt that Wolitzer was trying to do too much. Some parts were moving and enjoyable to read, but those were few and far between. I so badly wanted to smack Jules and tell her something along the line of, “you’re not as rich as you expected, and maybe you should have given a romantic relationship with Ethan a chance, but you didn’t, so just accept the life you have now.” The fact of the matter is that Jules didn’t have any particular talent or goals, so her life ending up mediocre should not have been the least bit surprising to her. I think it is a different look at relationships, but in the end, it just wasn’t interesting.