Most of the time, I am the last person to read the latest, hottest book. But I've experienced a kind of miracle here lately...DIGITAL DOWNLOADS!!! Penguin Audio e-mails their digital offerings every month, but I've never been able to figure out how to get them to my iPod. I just made up my mind to figure it out, sanity and time be damned, and lo and behold! The Interestings! In my ears right when it was released!
Synopsis: It was the summer of 1974 when Jules Jacobson met the others (self-dubbed "The Interestings") at art camp. A gawky, awkward comedic actress wannabe, Jules is welcomed and embraced by this hip group of kids...Ethan Figman, the creative cartoonist who wants to be her boyfriend, the Wolf siblings Ash (beautiful and ethereal) and Goodman (handsome and dangerous), musician Jonah Bay, and the amazonian dancer Kathy. This feeling of belonging was a new experience and a much-needed one since Jules had just lost her father to cancer. The bonds that formed during this magical summer continue throughout their lives, through college, careers, marriages, divorces and death.
Primarily through the narration of Jules, we watch the progression of the lives of her and her friends. A careless act threatens the strength and health of their friendships, and reverberates throughout all of their lives with long-range consequences. While some of the group go on to become wildly successful, others struggle to make ends meet, creating a subtle divide and ultimately a deep-seeded envy, and is a theme throughout. Poster children for the 1980's, the group encounters AIDS, feminism, child labor, depression, rape, the Moonies, and autism.
Perhaps this truly is the next Great American Novel.
My thoughts: I've taken my time in writing this review because I can't quite figure out how I feel about it. Over the last couple of weeks since I finished it, my mind has kept wandering back to it, musing. About how I loved my summer camps. About how, with the right skills (Wolitzer skills!), each and every one of us could probably write a similar story based on our own lives, with a little embellishment. About how it is so easy to both love and envy our friends. About how the decades of our formative years and that culture made us who we are.
So I guess that means I loved the book.
The biggest thing that bothered me was that at times it did seem to wander. But if I were to tell MY story, it would wander too. This was a story of some people's lives over 40 plus years, and we are just along for the ride, being entertained by their ups and downs, personalities, quirks, the detours, successes, disenchantments and heartbreaks.
I've seen this book compared to Jonathan Franzen, and that certainly knocked me sideways because I am not a fan of the Fran. His work feels slimy and miserable (although well-written). But Wolitzer certainly IS an astute observer of relationships and dialogue in that way. I think the difference is that while, like life, this story can get weighed down by day-to-day challenges, the author handles it with a quippy, clever, breezy way that made it extremely palatable.
I expect to see this one on some favorites lists come year end.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator was Jen Tullock, who appears to only have narrated this one audiobook. She is apparently a comedian that performs on stage, and this experience serves her well in this production. She speaks easily and delivers the author's quippy, breezy prose with perfect timing, making this a truly enjoyable audio. I hope she decides to pursue this career path, because I'd love to hear her again.
Audiobook length: 15 hours and 41 minutes (480 pages)
4.5 out of 5 stars