Thursday, April 18, 2013

"The Interestings," by Meg Wolitzer

Naturally I HAD to read Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, “The Interestings” (Riverhead, 2013). I have read most of her fiction over the years, always with pleasure, and the reviews of this new book have been very positive. In addition, I realize that recently I have been wanting to read a “big” literary novel that would catch me up and absorb me. This novel is that big one, at 468 pages, with so many of the elements I enjoy: a group of friends whose intertwined lives are portrayed over a period of many years; compelling characters; intriguing intersecting plot lines; explorations of current topics and events from the 1970s through the 2000s; questions about careers and life choices; sex, love, marriage, children; feelings of insecurity, connection, guilt, envy, loss, and celebration; and a New York City setting (with side trips to the formative summer camp where the characters first met, to Europe, and elsewhere). Besides being very well written and tremendously enjoyable to read, the novel is a commentary on our times, especially in terms of social class and economic success, or lack thereof. One of the main characters, Jules, cannot help being envious of her friends Ethan and Ash and their enormous success, affluence, and fame. The focus on who has not-quite-enough money, who has more money, and who has the most money might seem inappropriate when so many have so much less than any of these characters, but it is a topic of great concern in the U.S. today, and preoccupies many, so it seems to me a legitimate subject for fiction about today’s world, or at least this slice of today’s world. Wolitzer seems to be aiming in this novel at a larger stage, a bigger voice, more social commentary even than in her earlier novels, and she largely succeeds. The blend of a good, absorbing story and social commentary is, I believe, what often makes the best fiction. (Side note: I have also been enjoying for years the fiction of Wolitzer’s mother, Hilma Wolitzer, and I love the idea of the mother and daughter both being wonderful and successful novelists.)

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