Putting Character Before Story



The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer


Given my stance on this particular strain of postmodern American literature, I shouldn’t like this book, but I do. It’s character-heavy; These imagined people meet as children in Camp Spirit-In-The-Woods, and in a certain camp teepee, decide they’re darned special, special enough, in fact, to call themselves the Interestings. But who are these children-soon-to-be-adults in Meg Wolitzer’s world?

There’s brother and sister Ash and Goodman Wolf, Julie Jacobson, Ethan Figman, Kathy Kiplinger, and Jonah Bay. Kathy soon becomes a casualty of this group and exiled to peripheral status, as is Goodman and, to a certain extent, Jonah. These three, to be sure, have direct influences on the others, but the book solidifies around Ash, who marries Ethan, and Julie, who marries a man named Dennis. The two couples are poles apart – Ash and Ethan are rich, seemingly without care, Julie and Dennis struggling constantly. But both couples and their children  persist in remaining close.



Wolitzer’s characters are perfectly crafted and textured within the context of this novel, and you get to know them as intimately as you would your own family. Sound familiar?

It should – this is the way of modern serialized television shows – there isn’t an overarching story; instead, the characters are in the forefront, struggling though vignette after vignette with one another and occasionally with their peripheral friends.

What always seems to be missing in such novels is that very overarching story.

But what, you  ask, is so darn important about story to allow it equal status with such grand characterization? It the case of Wolitzer’s novel, the testing of characters is limited to a small range of human experience. They’re not exposed to the foreign and perhaps unorthodox plot situations that take characters out of their cozy, friend-populated worlds, re-work these created people, and change their lives forever. The Interestings, though, perhaps emotionally tattered, seem to remain none the wiser for their spent years. Maybe that’s the way of modern life, but such portrayals makes for literature that leaves the reader in want.


My rating: 17 of 20 stars



Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.


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