Wolitzer has been working at a fever pitch clearly on a mission to write her way out of what she regards as the women's lit ghetto. In her much-discussed New York Times Book Review essay last year, "The Second Shelf," Wolitzer complained that female novelists don't get the same attention and respect as their male counterparts – even when male authors write domestic fiction, such as Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot." She notes that the differences begin with book size (women's self-edited, slim volumes versus men's doorstoppers) and extend to jacket design (illustrations of laundry hanging on a line versus abstract graphics with author and title trumpeted in bold block letters).
Well, The Interestings announces itself as a big book from the get-go, with its bold, eye-catchingly striped cover and substantial heft. But its increased weightiness isn't just about packaging: It is also a matter of expanded scope and ambition. Wolitzer follows her six main characters from their teens in 1974 through their fifties in 2012, as they try to grasp the puzzling relationship between promise, talent, money, success, sadness, power, love, and luck. Her novel is filled with sharp and often witty observations – not only observing how life "took people and shook them around" but also marking societal changes over a span that encompasses Nixon's resignation, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, and an increased focus on finance. "Since when did 'portfolio' start to refer to money, not artwork? It's like the way if someone's an analyst, it no longer means they're a Freudian, it means they study the stock market," her protagonist observes.
Aspects of "The Interestings" strike familiar chords. After all, there's nothing new about a group of teens, intoxicated with their recent discovery of irony and wry wit, "gathering because the world was unbearable, and they themselves were not." Wolitzer captures the cocky "assumption of eventual greatness" that draws them together, before they are knocked down several pegs by often sobering realities: financial and romantic woes, lives poleaxed by illness, developmental disabilities, self-destructive siblings, and deaths that strike out of nowhere.