The six of them met when they were fifteen, sixteen years old, during the summer of 1974. A time when the country was poised to watch President Nixon resign his office in disgrace. That event was not as pivotal to the self-absorbed teens as their own agenda: discovering their creativity and finding their special niche. They were attending, for their first summer, a unique camp in the Berkshires called Spirit-in-the-Woods.
They were so special in their own minds that they labeled themselves “The Interestings.” Yes, perhaps the title was meant to be ironic, but their narcissism was also showing.
Over the many pages that follow, we see the group of them morph into their young adult/college age selves, followed by their twenty-somethings. And on and on. And with each year that passes, life chips away at their “specialness,” until some of them are shadows of their former selves. Tragic events reduce their numbers, but the core of them remain connected, sometimes only occasionally.
Ethan Figman, Jules Jacobson, Ash and Goodman Wolf, Cathy Kiplinger, and Jonah Bay. Who among them would find success and happiness, if only for awhile, and who would lose huge pieces of their original selves until there was nothing recognizable remaining?
Narrated from different perspectives, we come to know the hopes, dreams, insecurities, and flaws of most of them, some more than others. Whose startling success will surprise, and sometimes diminish, the others? Who among them will hold a secret that lasts for most of a lifetime?
Of the six major characters, Jules and Ethan felt the most like people I wanted to befriend, even as others seemed so narcissistic as to arouse feelings of disappointment and even anger. Those with a sense of how special they are—that entitlement—would cause me to turn away from them.
Having grown up in those long-ago years, I could relate to the times that were a-changing, from the 70s, with their artistic, liberating, and creative focus, to the 80s, with all the shiny moments and brilliant wealth, followed by less gilded times as the years flew by.
Themes of friendship, loss, the meaning of talent, aging, and how time changes us all resonated with me. Through the years, as the financial and social disparity between some of the characters seemed to result in feelings of envy and even bitterness, it became harder to recall why any of the friendships remained. The fact that some loyalties survived the onslaught of change is a testament to the strength of youthful experiences and those connections formed then. But as the story draws to a close, and as some of the characters attempt to recapture that time in their lives, they realize that you really can’t go back. And, in going on, sometimes the secrets and lies that erupt change the landscape of their lives forever. But what still connects them will see them through.
In some books of this length, I often feel like I can’t wait to get to the end, for the book to finally conclude. But in The Interestings: A Novel, I realized that I wanted to be part of these characters’ lives indefinitely. A resounding five star read!