Imagine a book that tracks the members of the Breakfast Club after that fateful Saturday in detention (if you need a refresher, here you go). They have spent a day together getting to know themselves and each other. Unlikely couplings have occurred. And now they are going back to their normal lives. What will happen? Will they remain friends? Will they drift apart? What will they end up doing and becoming? The Interestings is basically that book (except, of course, that it follows “the Interestings” rather than the Breakfast Club).
The Interestings are a group of teenagers who meet at Spirit-in-the-Woods, an artsy-fartsy, hippie-dippy summer camp. There are six of them:
- Jules, née Julie, is given her nickname by the group. She is the only Interesting who is not from NYC, and she is envious of her new friends and their glamorous lives. But with her new name, she discovers a new self. Jules is more exciting and remarkable than suburban Julie. She is wry and self-deprecating and has a terrible poodle perm. She wants to be a character actor, but she’s not quite funny enough.
- Ethan is an animation prodigy, a real talent, who strives to be kind and moral and good. He is plagued by eczema, bad breath, and homeliness. And he loves Jules.
- Ash believes she bears the heavy burden of being the only gifted child of narcissistic parents. She is an ethereal beauty, an intellectual, and a capable actress, director, and playwright. She never questions that she is special.
- Jonah, a talented musician, is the introverted, beautiful son of a famous folk singer, who loves Legos.
- Goodman is Ash’s older brother. He likes architecture but lacks follow-through and ambition. He drinks a lot and has a mean streak. He is stunning, and he knows it.
- Cathy is a ballet dancer with a stripper’s body who, at 15, already oozes sexuality.
Some of them are likeable, all of them are flawed. They are fun and unique (if not always interesting). At Spirit-in-the-Woods, they feel special and creative and talented, but only some of them really are.
The book follows them from the day they become The Interestings, while smoking weed in a teepee at camp in 1974, until 2011. They grow up and stay in touch to varying degrees. There are hook-ups and break-ups. There are massive fall-outs. They are there for each other during successes and tragedies. Things happen around them (AIDS, depression, war, 9/11) and to them (careers, marriages, kids, religious cults, criminal accusations, illness). Through the Interestings’ evolving (and devolving) friendships, the book explores some of the things that drive and sustain relationships: desire, jealousy, trust, loyalty, and need.
Rating: 3.5 (almost a 4 but not quite)/5 ⛺
This book has been hyped and hyped. It’s on a bunch of reading lists (like Buzzfeed’s “17 Books That Should Be On Your Summer Reading List” and Amazon’s “Best Books of the Year So Far: Top 20”). It’s good, but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Its main short-coming (ironically) is that it is too damn loooooong. There are times when it drags, and I think it would have benefited from an edit of at least fifty pages. But, overall, the book is worth reading. Amidst the rambling, there are moments of wit and tenderness and heartbreak and happiness. And if the whole book were as good as the last few pages, I would have given it a much higher rating.
Who should read it: my mother (i.e., people who can appreciate the magic of a hippie-dippy summer camp in the early 70’s) and my friend Stephen (i.e., people who understand the complexities of long friendships spanning different stages of life).