Meg Wolitzer’s novel spans many decades—telling the story of a group of friends who meet at an “arty” summer camp in upstate New York in the early seventies but whose lives remain entangled with each other’s into the new millennium. Most of the novel is told from the perspective of Jules Jacobson, who comes to the camp as Julie but after getting invited into a circle of already established friends, turns into Jules and embraces a life in the arts. The group consists of the beautiful Ash and her brother, Goodman; Ethan, the homely but brilliant cartoonist; Jonah, the son of a famous folksinger; and Cathy, a dancer. Jules, awkward and still reeling from the death of her father, finds comfort and a sense of identity as a member of the “interestings,” all who plan to do something profound and important with their lives—all except Goodman, who seems dedicated to not living up to expectations.
As this group of friends moves through life and through the last decades of the 20th century and into the 21st, there are careers lost and found, betrayals and tragedies, as well as love and relationships. The backdrop to this is the constantly evolving New York City as it shifts from its seedy, dangerous, and more alive version in the 80’s to its Stepford incarnation in the late 90’s.
There’s a lot to love about this novel even as parts of it made me squirm a bit in self-recognition. There’s a little bit of that narcissistic 15-year-old in us all and this novel shows how dreams often blind us to really living in the realities we occupy, how friends both love and envy each other, and how much of the bones of our characters were formed when we were young.