Six teenagers, many privileged, meet one summer, bond, and live out the rest of their individual lives in the following pages. This is the premise of The Interestings, but it's also the same basic premise of my own novel-in-progress. Fortunately, the similarities largely end there. Now, I don't know if it's good for an author to read a book that bears such striking similarities to his own (especially when his book is still “in process”), but I was too curious. Did Wolitzer pull it off? What element of this story did she nail that I failed to acknowledge? Was a story with this premise even interesting, and if not, what did that mean for my own novel? Perhaps the only thing worse than reading such a similar novel for an author is acknowledging the fact on the Internet. Yes, I'm that idiot doing so now. If I'm ever fortunate enough to have my novel published, someone will likely make the connection, say I'm tapping Wolitzer's idea and shaping it into my own. Fortunately, I believe the differences in style, tone, execution, etc. are great enough that most people, even if they've read both novels, will not make a connection at all.
It may be my personal affection for the storyline, but I really enjoyed The Interestings. For a large part, the characters resonated with me. Although the story is about six characters, it almost entirely revolves around two, maybe three. The others are pushed to various levels of insignificance. I'd have liked to have known more about Cathy especially, but Wolitzer played her triviality well enough that it didn't harm the plot. Jonah and Goodman also could've been more significant, but upping their roles could've caused more damage than it would've been worth.
The thing that perhaps annoyed me most about The Interestings was the snobbery of some of the characters, particularly Jules. Oh my god, I have this shabby apartment and I have to walk up stairs!!! Whine, whine whine. What is unclear in the way Wolitzer implements this whining is whether the author genuinely believes Jules is somehow underprivileged, or is using very subtle irony, masquerading socio-economic views within the voices of her characters. And it is for the reason that a reader should never judge an author just because their personal feelings are getting in the way. Dostoevsky, after all, was a master at rallying his characters behind the belief that opposed his own. While I admit, I wanted to slap Jules, so much so that I feel the need to mention it in my review, her complaining did not detract from the skill of the novel.
The Interestings is not pieced together with the most captivating of plots, by any means, and I'm sure many readers will not enjoy this book the way I did. For me, it's personal. (Then again, isn't that what all stories are? Isn't our ability to connect to a particular storyline based on our own personal experience?) Those who don't care for The Interestings will likely first notice the irony of the title: “The Interestings isn't very interesting.” And yet, I think that is somewhat Wolitzer's point. Personally, I love that irony. And I tip my hat to her, even if she stole my idea*.
* Assuming Wolitzer began writing The Interestings after she'd finished her previous novel, she probably didn't start the first draft until 2010 or 2011. If that's the case, technically she could've lifted the premise from me. I began work on my first draft in 2009. The idea was in my head years before that. It's a cutthroat industry and there are spies all around us, I say. Spies, spies!!!!