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Review: ‘The Interestings’ by Meg Wolitzer

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Meg Wolitzer will discuss and sign “The Interestings,” 4:30 p.m. April 21 at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark.

Updated: May 22, 2013 6:03AM

A little talent is a dangerous thing. Meg Wolitzer examines the implications of that sad truth in her latest work, “The Interestings” (Riverhead, $27.95), a sprawling, marvelously inventive novel that tracks the friendships over nearly four decades of six teenagers who meet in the summer of 1974 at an arts camp in Massachusetts.

At the center of the book is Julie Jacobson, a gawky but fundamentally good kid from suburban Long Island who emerges from the grief of losing a parent and discovers a gift for comic acting during that long-ago mythic summer.

The agents of her transformation are five more sophisticated kids from New York City who dub her “Jules” — a cool nickname that sticks for life — 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 (perhaps better named Wolfman) 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 folksinger 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.


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