Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Review: The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
Over on Goodreads, I welcomed another member to my coveted Five-Star club: Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings! Now, why did it enter such rare territory, you ask? Well, it's hard to say. Is it a solid five-star like Delillo's White Noise, a modern classic destined for doctoral theseses and scorn from the unwashed masses? Well, how many books are?
But The Interestings is five-star good in ways that count: It's readable and believable. It's a good solid read, by turns enchanting and engrossing, that rarest of literary feats: a page-turner about mundane things done by ordinary people. The six core Interestings all met at a summer camp in 1974, and they were all Talented in various ways: The actor, the dancer, the animator, the musician, playwright, and the enigmatic prodigal. Mostly they went on to do non-artistic work, although one, Ethan, went on to be a Success complete with money and fame.
In fact Ethan Figman went beyond ordinary in many ways: he's a multi-millionaire cartoon king, morally scrupulous, ethically above board - a liberal superman, even. Which is no doubt what turns a lot of people off about this book (see white privilege, etc.) and I get your point. But it also drives the narrative in a believable way; he's surrounded by the ordinary, and he elevates them. Maybe this sounds like a strange point, and maybe I'm talking The Interestings out of five-star status just by mentioning it, but Ethan is even a bit... Christ-like, isn't he? (yeah, my eyes are rolling too. I'm backing off...)
Overall I loved being in this book, finding out what happened next, following along. Jules, the primary narrator, may have been a bit harsh and needy and jealous, but she was real. And I found Jonah to be entirely sympathetic and engrossing; his sections could have been a novel by themselves. And despite a bit of tidy wrap-up involving astounding coincidences and Just The Right Words from Ethan to Jonah, followed by a noble tearful death, The Interestings was an amazing, astounding read. Welcome to the five-star lounge, The Interestings!