In The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, one of my favorite fiction authors, the main character is a therapist.
But first she’s a teenager named Julie who meets a group of cool kids at a summer artsy-type camp. From Julie’s point of view, she’s the outsider from the non-upper-class-family; the non-Manhattanite kid, only there because of a scholarship.
She’s accepted by the group, though, and Julie becomes “Jules,” an aspiring comic actress. Kirkus Reviews lists the rest of the self-named “Interestings”:
Her lifelong best friend becomes beautiful Ash, an aspiring actress. Ash’s older brother is sexy bad-boy Goodman. Cathy, who wants to dance, becomes Goodman’s girlfriend. Jonah, the ethereally handsome, slightly withdrawn son of a famous folksinger, is musically gifted. And then there is Ethan: homely, funny and a brilliant cartoonist. Although he and Jules are immediately soul mates, she rejects his physical advances, unable to work up any sexual attraction.
Wolitzer follows these friends as they grow up and eventually become middle-agers, their status in 2009. While some in the group have become as “interesting” as Jules would expect them to be, she’s become someone who’s not so interesting—from her own perspective. She’s a therapist who’s married to a “dangerously depressed” (Janet Maslin, New York Times) guy, a medical technician who’s apparently not even trying for that whole “interesting” kind of thing.
Via Jules’s recollections, readers are filled in on all of the friends’ struggles and accomplishments between camp and the present. Jonah, for example, is known to have dealt with being gay at the start of the AIDS epidemic.
In the present, Ethan and Ash, now married and successful, send out a Christmas letter that raises jealousy in Jules. In the following excerpt found on NPR, she thinks about her own life:
Mostly, the years were just ordinary or mildly disappointing. What would she and Dennis even write about themselves? ‘In recent months, Jules lost two clients, whose insurance plans no longer offer mental health benefits.’ Or, ‘Dennis continues his job at the clinic in Chinatown, though the office is so understaffed that this week one patient waited seven hours to be seen.’ Or, perhaps, ‘Our daughter, Rory, a student at the state university in Oneonta, has no idea what to major in, and has a roommate who was prom queen in high school.’
Publishers Weekly describes the gist of the story as “the gap between promise and genuine talent, the bonds and strains of long friendships, and the journey from youth to middle age, with all its compromises, secrets, lies, and disparities.”
Kirkus Reviews: “Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era.”
Janet Maslin, New York Times: “The big questions asked by ‘The Interestings’ are about what happened to the world (when, Jules wonders, did ‘analyst’ stop denoting Freud and start referring to finance?) and what happened to all that budding teenage talent. Might every privileged schoolchild have a bright future in dance or theater or glass blowing? Ms. Wolitzer hasn’t got the answers, but she does have her characters mannerisms and attitudes down cold.”
Jeffrey Eugenides: “Like Virginia Woolf in The Waves, Meg Wolitzer gives us the full picture here, charting her characters’ lives from the self-dramatizing of adolescence, through the resignation of middle age, to the attainment of a wisdom that holds all the intensities of life in a single, sustained chord, much like this book itself. The wit, intelligence, and deep feeling of Wolitzer’s writing are extraordinary and The Interestings brings her achievement, already so steadfast and remarkable, to an even higher level.”