The Interestings and a failed attempt at reading non-fiction

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(c) Sampada Chavan, 2007

My reading streak has been going very well this year and I haven’t allowed school work to distract me from my pleasure reading. In my excitement, I thought I could do something experimental – I thought I could read (and finish) a non-fiction book. Boy, was I wrong! Although, however stunted my reading experience was of Lucy’s Legacy, I did learn quite a bit. My interest in Lucy was piqued when in 2007 Houston’s Museum of Natural Sciences hosted an exhibit of Lucy’s skeletal remains. She, a 3.2 million old hominid, had come all the way from Ethiopia and had created quite a buzz. I had no idea how profound an effect seeing her would have on me, but when they showed a clip of Lucy’s life and death before ushering us into the small viewing room, and when I stood, in awe, in front of the glass case, I was driven to tears. Lucy had come a long way – metaphorically and literally. But reading the book didn’t quite have that effect on me. I suppose I am just not that scientifically inclined. Sure, paleoanthropology sounds exciting, but there’s only so much jargon I can take from one book. This is not a review of the book per se, because I didn’t finish it. But it was nice revisiting Lucy, even for a short while.

After the failed attempt at non-fiction, I was happy to pick up Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. Right from the start, I felt like I had read a book like this before. And then I realized it faintly reminded me of Donna Tartt’s Secret History. The Interestings is also about an unlikely group of friends that meet at a summer camp for creative teenagers. Ash, her brother Goodman, Jonah, Cathy, and Ethan are already friends when they include Jules, a plain girl with nothing as special about her as the rest of them, but who compensates with the help of her wry sense of humor. Jules and Ash strike up a close friendship that lasts all their lives, but the group of friends goes through upheavals and challenges that tear some apart and bring others closer.

The story, while mostly chronological, often becomes non-linear, much like our memories of time spent with friends. Wolitzer’s writing is very engaging and all but one character is really well developed and intriguing. Jonah’s story arc just doesn’t feel as appealing and almost seems forced into the story. Jules is, by all means, the protagonist, although Wolitzer gives almost equal importance to Ash and Ethan. But Jules is a flawed protagonist. Although she is a wonderful friend and normal enough for the common reader to identify with, she also battles with envy, which makes her a little less likable. On the other hand, the long-lasting friendship shared by the friends is enviable in and of itself. Ethan, especially, shows himself to a kind and reliable person – all of us would like a friend like Ethan in our lives!

Although I found the title of the book a little bit of a creative cop-out, it’s quite fortunate that the book is interesting.

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