Grief, Illness, and Abandoned Dreams in Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings

“When you looked closely at anything, you could almost faint, Jules thought, although you had to look closely if you wanted to have any knowledge at all in life.” ~ Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
538 pages
Published by Riverhead, 2013
Genre: Fiction
Re-readability: This one might be fun to read again someday when I want something enjoyable
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete

Spoiler-free review

Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings follows a group of six friends, beginning with their meeting at a summer camp for the arts and following them through their 50s, sometimes jumping forward and back in time. It deals with friendship, relationships, trust, loss, and self-discovery.

I liked this book. At no point was I profoundly touched by its characters or gripped by intense scenes, but I enjoyed it (almost) the entire time. Wolitzer’s writing is strong and convincing, and each character is complex and has their own unique struggles. Everyone has an arc in this story, and these arcs progress much the way they do in the real world—not anywhere close to the plan, and filled with pleasant and unpleasant surprises.

My main criticism is entirely personal and not a reflection of the book’s quality: It’s too realistic. It’s filled with wonder and worldliness and difficult problems and grand victories. But all of its stories felt so plausible and grounded in reality that I felt like I was being told an older relative’s life story.

Not a criticism at all, you say? Well, it rubbed me the wrong way because it just felt too plausible, too normal. I finished the book and thought “Yes, that’s the way this world is, isn’t it?” There were no insightful perspectives or moments of clarity. Everything felt so familiar I felt like I’d heard it all before (though I haven’t).

Wolitzer’s plotting is excellent, particularly how she examines every consequence of events and decisions. This book is an intricate system of relationships, and the emotions are real (even if they aren’t very moving). However, she seems to care for her characters so deeply that she gives each one almost equal attention, when I sometimes didn’t want to hear any more about Jonah—but everyone gets their arc and their moment, everyone has their fall from grace, and some characters find peace.

If there’s one resounding message in The Interestings, it’s this: Life is sloppy. But I already knew this. I read to escape, and in this story, I found myself reading about things like money problems, underwhelming careers, dying parents, and uncomfortable secrets. Very real things that are important to understand, but altogether unpleasant to read about. Things that are just normal and not great.

I did not like or understand the protagonist, particularly when she spent 80 pages in the middle of the book being envious and insensitive. Otherwise, this book should be a delight. But it just isn’t my sort of book. There was nothing here for me to escape to except for the very real, very imminent stresses of the world we live in. Nonetheless, I can’t give this book any less than 3.5 stars.

Read this book to feel like you’re having a conversation with actual people. Read it to experience several lives almost in full. Read it to be positively stressed out and quite sad.

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