Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings

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The Interestings Summary

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Meg Wolitzer’s ninth novel, The Interestings, is the story of a group of friends who met as teenagers and traces their lives into adulthood. The central character is Jules, who is jealous of her friends’ lives. The book exemplifies the wide spectrum of emotions that form the basis of human relationships and the changes friendships go through over time.

Regret and the events that haunt a person are major themes in The Interestings. Six friends meet at a camp for the arts one summer. As they mature and navigate life they face countless ups and downs and have to deal with fears and prejudices. Jules Jacobson-Boyd discovers that, in spite of the downturns they each have to deal with in life, there is something that manages to sustain them. The story begins in the summer of 1974 when Jules is fifteen. The camp she attends that summer is the exclusive Spirit-in-the-Woods, where she hopes to feel more comfortable than in the New York suburbs where she lives with her widowed mother and unhappy older sister. Once at the camp, though, she feels like an outsider compared to the others, who seem mysterious and sophisticated. The connections they come to make, however, are long lasting.

One of the characters, Dennis Boyd, has a nervous breakdown which brings mental illness into focus. Wolitzer examines the effects of mental illness, in particular depression, and the way it influences those who suffer from it and those around them is seen through Dennis’ story. The growing awareness and acceptance of his homosexuality by Jonah and his embarking on a relationship with a HIV positive partner further expands the text’s engagement with issues of identity. Also impacting Jonah’s life is having his musical creations stolen by someone who subsequently receives credit for them.   As a result, Jonah feels that he has been stripped of all of his musical ability. When he gets to the point where he can share this fear with another person, he is better able to understand his feelings and realize that his talent has not been destroyed.

Two characters, Ash and Ethan, outwardly seem to have an ideal marriage. However, Ash is coping with the responsibility of caring for her brother Goodman, who is running from the law. Ethan does not know that Ash knows where her brother is, nor is he aware that she is sending him money. This information has been kept from Ethan because he is a man of high moral character. The family assumes that he would not allow Ash to aid and abet Goodman.. Ultimately, when he does learn the truth, his marriage to Ash begins to deteriorate. Ethan has not necessarily lived up to his own moral standards. He is filled with resentment, which leads to his dislike of his son who suffers from autism. As part of his son’s condition, he is unable to connect with the boy, which leads Ethan to avoid his own family as much as he can, using his work as an excuse. Later on, when Ethan develops cancer, he and Ash reconcile at Jules’s urging.

Jules’ feelings of jealousy stem from her perception of the relationship between Ethan and Ash. It seems no secret throughout the story that Ethan loves Jules. She does not feel the same way about him but values his friendship. She is in love with her husband, Dennis. Her emotions are influenced by the knowledge that she might have had a different life if she had married Ethan. Ethan would have provided her with a life of comfort in contrast to the day-to-day struggles she and Dennis endure. She does, by the end of the novel, accept that she was never the person Ethan was meant to be with.

The experiences of the people in Jules’ life change her and her idea of what she wants in life. The New York Times Book Review cites this as a key to Wolitzer’s book. “This theme of self-invention is the subject of most of the great American novels, from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The House of Mirth to The Great Gatsby. Enveloping and thoughtful, Wolitzer’s novel describes this process in a fresh and forgiving way. She allows her characters to come to see happiness not as getting what they thought they wanted, but wanting what they’ve wound up having — a definition in which succeeding doesn’t require exceeding. ‘You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker, the one who cracked everyone up, or made everyone want to sleep with you, or be the one who wrote and starred in the play that got the standing ovation,’ Jules tells herself. ‘You could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting.’ Now there’s an interesting idea.”