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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Interestings

I am going to be gone the rest of the week and was looking around trying to find something of interest for a quick post. While reading the New York Times Book Review, I came across the review for Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings written by Liesl Schillinger. Perhaps because I can identify somewhat with the subject matter, this book which is already on the shelf fascinates me. Read some parts of the review below and see if you want to pick it up.

‘The Interestings,’ by Meg Wolitzer

That misanthropic wag H. L. Mencken once wrote that his definition of happiness included “a comfortable feeling of superiority to the masses of one’s fellow men” — something he suggested was more easily achieved in this country than elsewhere. And yet his quest to be exceptional (in which he inarguably succeeded) didn’t appear to make him all that happy, judging from his prodigious, grumbling output. But does the compulsion to excel make anybody happy? Or is it, rather, a prescription for disappointment in oneself and in the “circumscribed world”?
That’s the question that comes to preoccupy Jules Jacobson, the ambitious protagonist of Meg Wolitzer’s remarkable ninth novel, “The Interestings,” whose inclusive vision and generous sweep place it among the ranks of books like Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” and Jeffrey Eugenides’s “Marriage Plot.” “The Interestings” is warm, all-American and acutely perceptive about the feelings and motivations of its characters, male and female, young and old, gay and straight; but it’s also stealthily, unassumingly and undeniably a novel of ideas. Wolitzer has been writing excellent fiction for 30 years, and it has always been this astute. From the start, her subject has been the practical, emotional and sexual fallout of women’s liberation, particularly as it affects mothers and children. But here she has written a novel that speaks as directly to men as to women. With this book, she has surpassed herself. Just don’t call her exceptional.
Wolitzer’s heroines are typically daughters of the American sexual revolution who, like the author, were conceived around the same time as the birth control pill and who approached adolescence at a cultural moment that forced them to reckon not only with their own growing pains but with those of their mothers, who returned flush-cheeked from consciousness-raising groups to exhort their daughters: “You girls will be able to do just about anything you want.” Watching their mothers set about fulfilling their long-deferred dreams, these daughters didn’t necessarily rejoice in such parental empowerment, as Wolitzer observed in her 1988 novel, “This Is Your Life.” There the daughters sulked when their mother’s success kept her far from the home front. “My girls,” she implores them, “have I really hurt you so much? Don’t you know that I only try to do what I can?”
In “The Interestings,” Jules Jacobson poses a broader question, asking herself what the boys (now men) and girls (now women) she has lionized since her teens, and emulated throughout her adult life, have lost through their persistent, rarely rewarded efforts to opt in. She wonders, in short, if all of them, male and female, have inaccurately defined success, believing they would only fit in once they stood out, would only matter if they were extraordinary. It’s Jules’s husband, Dennis, a man unafraid to call himself ordinary, who brings her to this realization. “Specialness — everyone wants it,” he tells her in frustration, fed up with her invidious comparisons to her childhood pals. “Most people aren’t talented. So what are they supposed to do — kill themselves?” Dennis’s heartfelt, exasperated cry snaps Jules out of the millstone mind-set she’s clung to for so long. Belatedly, she understands that she badly needs a new attitude........

Wolitzer's work describes how Jules developed this need to strive for more and how she convinces herself that happiness is not getting what you want, it is wanting what you get.

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