Monday, July 15, 2013

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Friendship bonds formed at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970s extend over the course of the lives of a group of New Yorkers in The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Jen Tullock [Dreamscape: 15h, 43 m]. Tullock skillfully differentiates the large cast with subtle voice changes.

Ethan and Ash become rich, while Jules and Dennis struggle with low-paying jobs and Dennis' chronic depression. Ash and Jules are best friends but the disparity in their incomes causes problems. Jules' jealousy is tedious at times (for readers and for her husband) but it also adds to the realism of the characters. Goodman and Kathy become involved in an event that changes their lives abruptly. Jonah, son of a famous folksinger, is the character I liked best. He is gay and comes out in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Jonah is a gifted musician, but chooses a different career path for a heartbreaking reason. All of the characters are interesting.

As in Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, flash-forwards occasionally offer glimpses into the future lives of minor characters. Wolitzer also uses them to foreshadow and as metaphor. I liked the effect, as in the following example, when Rory was a child demonstrating her karate chop on a stick of balsa. "The wood went flying, some of it landing under the radiator. It would stay there for months, years, wedged in a small space, even after the Jacobson-Boyd family moved out. The wood would go unnoticed for a very long time, like the library book that had been flung under the bureau during Rory's conception."

Readalikes - other character-driven novels that follow individuals as they age and include elements of unrequited love, secrets kept for decades, divided loyalties, living with a spouse who has a mental illness, pop culture references through the decades, and/or parenting a child with autism: A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan); Arcadia (Lauren Groff); The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides); The Middlesteins (Jami Attenberg); and Carry the One (Carol Anshaw).

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