Wolitzer (The Uncoupling, 2011) follows a group of friends from adolescence at an artsy summer camp in 1974 through adulthood and into late-middle age as their lives alternately intersect, diverge and reconnect.
Middle-class suburban Julie becomes Jules when a group of more sophisticated kids from Manhattan include her in their clique at Camp Spirit-in-the-Woods in upstate New York. 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 Jonah, the ethereally handsome, slightly withdrawn son of a famous folksinger, is musically gifted.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. After this first idyllic summer, the novel cuts to 2009 when Jules, now living a modest middle-class life as a therapist married to a medical technician, receives her annual Christmas letter from Ethan and Ash, who are married and wildly successful. As she looks back, the reader follows the evolution of the group. While still in high school, Cathy and Goodman break up in disastrous fashion; they both disappear from the group but not without causing permanent repercussions. For one thing, to Jules’ surprise, Goodman’s grieving sister Ash and Ethan become an unlikely but devoted couple. Jonah, who evolves as the inevitable sympathetic gay character in a novel tracing social mores through the last decades of the 20th century, gives up music for engineering. Ash becomes a feminist director and marries Ethan, the true genius of the group, who experiences major creative and financial success with his long-running animated series. Jules, who has given up acting to become a therapist and has married sweet but unambitious Dennis, tries not to envy her friend’s success. Secrets are kept for decades among the six “Interestings”; resentments are nursed; loyalties are tested with mixed results.
Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era.