Lives of the Gifted and Talented: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings cover imageI loved The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Jeffrey Eugenides, the author of The Marriage Plot, also loved it (see the blurb on the front cover) and reviewers love it, too, but I loved it in a special, more interesting way. The Interestings is a book I want to keep for myself as a cult book written especially for a unique reader (me) – the only one who can appreciate every bit of complex nuance and clever dialogue.

Of course, this is wishful thinking (except for the first sentence.) Also, I’m sure the author would like to sell more than one copy.

But The Interestings‘ main character, Jules Jacobson, would understand my selfish desire. At age fifteen, she unexpectedly ends up spending the summer of 1974 at a summer camp for arty teenagers, called Spirit-in-the-Woods where she is invited to join an exclusive circle of attractive, talented teens who dub themselves “the Interestings.” Being admitted to this tight-knit group releases Jules’ previously undiscovered comedic talent, instantly transforming her from boring “Julie” into funny, witty “Jules.” She escapes the comfort zone of her previous life and becomes a new person with new friends.

The Interestings spans almost four decades of Jules’ life, during which she remains in touch with friends from Spirit-in-the-Woods. Each member of the group had either a distinguishing talent, extraordinary looks, came from a wealthy family, or all of the above. Jules – ordinary, plain-looking Julie from the suburbs of New York whose perfectly ordinary father had just died – couldn’t believe she could be admitted into their glittering New York City life after the intensity of that first camp summer had ended, but somehow she was.

Pondering how beauty, money, fame, power, class, love, friendship, luck, and – above all, creative talent or insufficient talent – factor into a person’s life, Jules envies and frets over her closest friends’ careers, marriages, children, and artistic productivity, even as she lives her own New York City life. The author occasionally shifts focus to one of the other members of the group (even once or twice to the aging couple that owns Spirit-in-the-Woods) so the story isn’t all Jules all the time. There is a perfect balance of humor and seriousness throughout the novel.

Exploring the idea of creative talent – how it’s recognized, how it’s used, how it can be stunted, how you may not have enough – and with realistic characters who don’t always behave as expected, this novel of manners rises above the pack of what you might think of as ordinary New York City literary fiction (obsessive, neurotic, and self-absorbed). It will definitely be on my personal list of 2013 favorites.

If you liked The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides or The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, you should definitely try The Interestings, being released today.

Meg Wolitzer writes about writing The Interestings on author Caroline Leavitt’s blog, here.

The Interestings
Wolitzer, Meg
Riverhead Books
April 9, 2013
978-1-59448-839-9
$27.95

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, but have ordered my own copy of the hardcover to keep.

Other opinions on The Interestings (all excellent):
Books Are My Boyfriends
River City Reading

a

8 thoughts on “Lives of the Gifted and Talented: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer”

  1. Oooh this one has definitely caught my interest. I love that it’s not a one-sided POV story…sounds like a very complex/unique take on what would otherwise be just your average fiction novel.

    1. Jules isn’t always comfortable enough to fit in completely. I saw a review that compared The Interestings to Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, which I also liked. I think The Interestings is better, though.

  2. I’ll second your sentiment that this book deserves cult status. Half way through this book I started to really grow weary of Jules’ constant whining, which after a little introspection I came to realize, or at least recognize the same whiney voice within myself. I’m not entirely sure if Wolitzer promotes the acceptance of mediocrity, or if the actual message revolves around loving ourselves for who we are, and not using peers’ performances as measuring tools to gage our own success in llfe. Listening to Wolitzer speak on the Book report radio show (their website archives), I came to realize that there’s more to this book than I took from it after the first read – I’ll give it a week before reading it again.
    …in some ways I can’t help but think of Ayn Rand’s ‘Fountain Head’, which showcases genius and talent as some unsuppressable entity that isn’t dependent on finances, but tenacity and self-belief. Whilst I enjoyed that book immensely, the perspective Wolitzer adopts is a whole lot more tangible.

    1. Thanks for commenting and for the link to the Book Report show! I listened to the interview and found it interesting. I’ve seen reviews that consider Jules to be whiny, but either I have a high tolerance for neurotic people or I am one myself, because I didn’t think Jules was whiny at all! I read Atlas Shrugged but never The Fountainhead, and that was so long ago I don’t remember it.

Would love to have you comment!