A little talent is a dangerous thing. Meg Wolitzer examines the implications of that sad truth in a sprawling, marvelously inventive novel that tracks the friendships over nearly four decades of six teenagers who meet in 1974 at a summer arts camp.
At the center of the tale is Julie Jacobson, a gawky but good kid from Long Island who emerges from the grief of losing a parent and discovers a gift for comic acting during that mythic summer.
The agents of her transformation are five more sophisticated kids from New York City who dub her “Jules” and teach her the art of ironic observation. During a pot- and vodka-fueled conversation in a tepee in the opening scene, they ironically christen themselves “the Interestings” so, as one of them says, “the world can know just how unbelievably interesting we are.”
Wolitzer’s vivid characters include a boy-genius cartoonist who becomes unimaginably wealthy after creating a long-running TV show; a handsome, predatory youth named Goodman Wolf and his sensitive, beautiful sister, Ash; a physically precocious dancer who reinvents herself as a Wall Street CEO after a life-shattering event; and a gifted musician whose life is nearly destroyed when he is cruelly exploited by a friend of his famous folk-singer mother.
New York City, whose relentless gentrification from the late ’70s through the 2000s serves as a backdrop for most of the action, becomes something of a seventh character in the ensemble cast.
Wolitzer captures with almost unerring accuracy both the rhythms of conversation and the customs of urban life among this upwardly aspiring, artistically inclined collection of Manhattanites.
Years from now, when readers are curious what it was like to be a member of the creative class in New York in the decades just before and after the dawn of the 21st century, they’ll do well to pick up this ambitious and enormously entertaining coming-of-age story.