Monday, June 10, 2013

The Interestings (by Meg Wolitzer)

 This is a book that I am not quite sure about. I enjoyed the premise more than the execution, I think. It’s interesting because I loved The Marriage Plot, in spite of its somewhat overprivileged characters, but had issues with this book for similar reasons. I thought about it a lot (if nothing else, this book did stay on my mind) and realized it’s because Jules, the semi-main character of The Interestings, is supposed to be this amazing person who is funny and somehow unique and special (so that the most sympathetic character, Ethan, is in like apocalyptic love with her) but she actually comes across as rather charmless, bitter, and lacking perspective. I like the idea of exploring jealousy, but you can’t really pull off endless, vocal jealousy of your rich friends when your rich friends 1) go out of their way not to throw it in your face, 2) are basically admirable and decent people, and 3) take you on first-class vacations and write you big checks. I mean come on. At that point you are the asshole in this scenario. (I didn’t mind her having the feelings so much as ranting about them to her long-suffering husband on a constant basis--I wanted more subtlety, I think, in this storyline.)

I was more interested in some plotlines than others. Ethan was my favorite character by far, I completely loved him, and I enjoyed the Ethan-Jules-Ash storyline, even though I had the issues with Jules as noted above. I did like the way it resolved, with Jules telling Ethan to talk to Ash about his issues, and the cartoon. The resolution was nice. (Even if overly reliant on my pet peeve cliche of “I’m not sure how to end this book so I will kill someone off.”) Actually in general I thought the characters’ endings made perfect sense. I also liked the sense of events happening against the backdrop of various decades; I thought the passage of time was handled very well.

I wanted some of the characters to be better drawn, in addition to the supposedly “funny” Jules (who never says anything humorous that I can recall): Cathy was a complete cipher to me, and I feel like the end of the book would have worked better if I had any sense of her at all. Maybe this was deliberate, given the Cathy/Goodman plotline, but I would have liked to understand why they were her friend in the first place. Ash was basically too good to be true, mostly in the way she didn’t seem to really care that her husband spent their entire marriage in love with another woman (I thought that was going to bubble up at some point, but nope). Jonah bored me; I know a lot of reviewers liked his plotline, but yawn. He just seemed like someone wallowing in his own problems for no reason. (I did like the resolution of that too, though.) Goodman’s plot arc worked for me, and I especially liked the final conversation between Ethan and Jules about it. I liked their friendship, and I liked Jules’s strong boundaries, and I liked her ultimate choice of career.

So I don’t know where that leaves me, kind of babbling about this book that I’m a little unsure about. I give it a solid B, but I feel like it could have so easily been an A.

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