The Interestings

It’s hard to say about a 550+ page book that you didn’t want it to end. But that’s how I felt upon finishing Wolitzer’s The Interestings. Meg Wolitzer did the right thing by following these characters across decades, because this book could’ve been about success or talent in a shorter time period but the point would not have been the same. Talent ebbs and flows over a life, but success takes a lifetime’s worth of commitment to achieve. Not to mention a lot of luck.

I’m in a part of my life now where the pace of change has slowed. Every additional year is less and less different from every previous year. That was not true of my teenage years. My life at 12 was pretty substantially different from my life at 13. I don’t foresee my life at 28 being as different from my life now at 27. This makes it easy to picture how the next 5, 10, 20, 40 years might look. With that perspective, living life with the characters in this book for a while was fun. I liked thinking about how Jules related to Ethan, a man she had known for decades. Or about what space Goodman occupied in Ethan’s brain. Blood didn’t bond these people, but they ended up being in each other’s lives as long as some family members are. And even after decades, they could, in an instant, go back to the feeling of first meeting and getting to know each other.

I have a close group of friends like this, people I got know as a teenager and college student. I expect to know and be close to them for many years. We’ll go through many experiences together. But, even now, I can in an instant go back and wonder what it would’ve been like to never meet them. I can recall a time when I didn’t know them. I can recall formative moments when their identities formed in my mind.

Some horrible things happened to the characters in this book, but by and large their lives were not miserable. I’ve always had a hard time building a mental model of how many people are truly suffering all the time in the world. What is the distribution of sadness? Do some people suffer a lot? Do most people suffer a little? The world of The Interestings, it seems, consists of most people suffering a little. That could be naive, or wrong, but it’s one possible world. It’s a more hopeful world, but part of me fears it’s not exactly the world we live in.