You know what happened to me at summer camp? Nothing because I never got to go and apparently I’m still not over it. There are adult sleepaway camps, but the term sounds vaguely porngraphic. Hopefully next summer the stars will finally align to take a summer session at Haystack in Deer Isle, Maine (which looks like one of the most beautiful places on the planet). For now it’ll have to suffice to read some camp stories.
The cover for Meg Wolitzer’s book The Interestings is eye catching, but it didn’t grab my interest til I learned it involved friends who meet at camp. Camp? Camp! Much like the childhood tree house that’ll forever exist only in my mind, this was not the camp experience I had in mind. It’s not a bad read though.
The story begins in the mid-1970s at an artsy camp for rich kids in Upstate New York. One night six friends gather in a teepee to drink, smoke and declare themselves … The Interestings. Because why not?
Jules Jacobson is the outsider in the bunch. She’s there on scholarship after her father’s passing and arrives freshly poodled with a big frizzy perm. Her family isn’t rich, famous or from Manhattan. While she enjoys playing comedic roles on stage, she’s not talented in a way that compels anyone to encourage her to pursue acting professionally. She tries to anyway, moving from Long Island to NYC right after college.
She recognized that that is how friendships begin: one person reveals a moment of strangeness, and the other person decides just to listen and not exploit it.
Through Jules, we follow the bunch through the decades as their relationships change- some break and others naturally grow as these characters walk through their imperfect lives together. The characters and what happens to them didn’t interest me, but it’s all so well written. Sometimes I had to re-read to appreciate how much Wolitzer can accomplish in a page. For example, one paragraph we’re with a Jules unhappy at college, the next paragraph recalls friends imparting advice to finding a few good friends, and by the end of the same page we’re at a dinner party years later fully understanding how Jules came to know her host.
Nothing was as concentrated as it had been up at Spirit-in-the-Woods. They were all spreading out, stretching, staying close as friends but getting the lay of land that looked very different when you were on your own.
I enjoyed reading this because the writing is extraordinary, but I didn’t like it. The story follows their careers, success, marriages, secret keeping and all that. Those with money and connections succeed at pursuing their dreams. Jules can’t help but compare her life with its crappy apartment, stressful underpaid job and troubled spouse to her friends’ luxurious lifestyles. She doesn’t let it eat away too much, but it’s always there and informs what little tension there is.
The title makes it impossible to not note that these characters aren’t interesting, but I definitely wouldn’t have read id had it been titled The Ordinaries. After spending decades with these characters in this lengthy book, I wanted to feel something at the end. Maybe with this one you have to like at least some of the characters to enjoy the story as much as the writing. This just wasn’t for me, but I get why people liked it.
Realizing Grace wrote a nice review.