The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer's 10th and finest book, begins in a teepee at an artsy summer camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods in the 1970s. Julie Jacobson, "an outsider and possibly even a freak," has been invited to get high with the cool kids, and inclusion in the camp's most fascinating clique changes Julie forever. Though a couple of the "Interestings" (as the Spirit-in-the-Woods gang half-ironically christens itself) drop out of sight as the years progress, the fierce, profound nature of their adolescent connection persists throughout life for the rest of them.
Wolitzer recently answered questions by email:
What is it about early friendships that sets them apart from all others?
Those early friendships take place at a time when you are experiencing all kinds of "firsts." And for another person to witness your firsts, or let you see hers, can be especially intimate and meaningful. It's like you are enclosed in a little laboratory together, performing experiments and making concoctions, and figuring out how you each want to be.
Jonah's brief time with the Moonies almost echoes the experience of summer camp, and yet it's a disaster. And Jules and Dennis, after running Spirit-in-the-Woods as adults, decide it's not for them. It's hard to admit — or to read — that you can't go home again. (Can you?)
I guess I think of it more in terms of change than in terms of home. We so want things to stay the same, but they don't. It's moving pictures all the time, and it's hard to remember that until you're given stark evidence.
In an oft-quoted essay on the topic of so-called women's fiction for The New York Times Book Review two years ago, you concluded that "the top tier of literary fiction — where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation — tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male." Do you feel any better these days about the world of literature?
There are certainly reasons for women to feel encouraged in some important quarters. The VIDA [Women in Literary Arts] count shows real change in a couple of significant publications — but it also points out, yet again, the gender imbalance in others, and reminds everyone who cares about books that it's important to keep this conversation going, even now.
To read an uncut version of this interview — and more local book coverage — please visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.