Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Interestings: Arty Kids Stay Friends, Forever

The cynical, jerky, glib book blogger in me would start this review with something like: "The Interestings? Ha! Helluva misnomer, that! More like 'The Jejunes'!" But then you'd be annoyed that I used the word "jejune" and probably stop reading. So lucky for you, this book blogger is enlightened, well-adjusted, and willing to admit he's probably in the minority on this one.

Most readers I know have enjoyed Meg Wolitzer's long novel about a group of teenagers attending an art camp in the mid-70s, and then becoming life-long friends, through love, loss, secrets, depression, fulfilled and unfulfilled talent, and children. It's an interesting premise — and for the most part, the characters who populate this novel do somewhat interesting things, like create a "The Simpsons"-like cartoon that makes one character rich and famous, hide secrets from their spouses, and unwittingly do LSD to help a middle-aged (pervert?) folk singer write songs.

But this novel never quite clicked for me. It's interesting at the beginning as the kids meet at the camp, and then hang around in New York City, until one fateful New Year's Eve when one in the group accuses another of rape. And the ending is interesting, too. But the several-hundred-page middle often sags. Wolitzer tells large swaths of story in summary — more like you're reading a magazine article about these characters and their exploits, than a novel about them.

The themes here are interesting, and well-developed — what is talent, and what external factors can cause it to be nurtured or snuffed? Why do we cling to childhood friendships when the adult versions of people and those relationships become vastly different? And why is harboring secrets so destructive to relationships built on trust? (Well, the answer to that last one should be obvious.)

And so these questions are interesting to think about, but the plot struggles to support them enough to keep you quickly turning the pages. It took me more than three weeks to traverse these 470 pages, more time than it took to read the super-difficult, much-longer The Luminaries. But I'm fully willing to admit that not being totally in the thrall of this novel is rather a dissenting opinion. Several readers even posted this to their best of 2013 list — including Book Riot. Hey, agreeing on everything is uninteresting, right?




7 comments:

  1. I would call this book jejune and I think that's why i liked it! To me liking or loving The Interestings comes down to whether or not you went to camp. I did and therefore i loved it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe, but the camp had nothing to do with why I didn't like it - in fact, I enjoyed the camp parts. It was the next 300 pages that were a bit, well, jejune.

      Delete
  2. This review just reconfirms that my decision not to read this was correct. I read one of Meg's earlier books for my book club a few years back (The Ten Year Nap) and hated it to the point that I swore I would never read anything else by her. Then this book came out. It had a similar enough story line and themes that made me stay away, but then it started getting such rave reviews that I started to question my decision. Luckily there was too many other books I really wanted to read. (I'm probably the one happy person it didn't make the ToB's short list) I'm glad to read a meh review.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I loved it, but I can see it not being for everyone. Have you read anything else by Wolitzer? I need to check out the rest of her books.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I still have it on my list but I have trouble with books that sag and go on without much page-turning action.

    ReplyDelete
  5. To be honest I have a hard time believing a group of people who met as kids in summer camp stay friends for life. Camp friendships burn bright but the burn out quick.

    I loved Lookaway, Lookaway, by the way. Looking forward to your review.

    ReplyDelete