I’ve been lucky to have a string of review assignments for three impeccable and very different novels this spring, all of which I’d categorize as feminist: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Here’s my review of the first, which ran today in Dallas Morning News:
“Talent,” Meg Wolitzer writes in her sweeping, thoughtful novel The Interestings, “could go in so many directions, depending on the forces that were applied to it and depending on economics and disposition, and on the most daunting and most determining force of all, luck.”
The Interestings dramatizes this idea through a four-decade unfurling of the lives of six characters who meet at an idealistic summer arts camp, Spirit-In-The-Woods, in rural New York in 1974.
Although the perspective shifts throughout this engrossing, panoramic novel, the main guide is Julie Jacobson, at the camp on scholarship after her father’s death. The beautiful and brainy aspiring actress Ash Wolf invites Julie to join a group of friends that includes Ash’s handsome and arrogant brother Goodman, an aspiring architect; Cathy, a dancer; Jonah, a musician and son of a famous folk singer; and Ethan Figman, a skilled artist and animator. They call themselves “The Interestings.”
These friends, who live in Manhattan and seem sophisticated, dazzle suburban Julie. “Irony was new to her and tasted good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit,” Wolitzer writes. When Ash calls Julie “Jules,” she keeps the name for life, a symbol of her dream to change herself from “an outsider and possibly even a freak” into an admired comic actress. “They all seduced one another with greatness, or the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness-in-waiting.”
The novel jumps back and forth in time, propelled by the repercussions of a dramatic incident involving Goodman, whose life, Wolitzer writes in the first chapter, has “an alarming trajectory.” As the friends’ lives develop, whether they fulfill their early artistic promise depends on a number of factors — money, connections, desire and hard work, and the quality of their talent. Jonah is among the first to drop off the artistic path, setting aside his musical gifts after a bizarre exploitation and studying engineering at MIT. Cathy’s womanly body dooms her dance career.
Please click through to read the rest: http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/books/20130419-book-review-the-interestings-by-meg-wolitzer.ece