At the center of "The Interestings" is Julie Jacobson, who quickly morphs into the far edgier "Jules." This aspiring comic actress and "short-sedered Jew" attends the hippie-inflected Spirit-in-the-Woods arts camp in Massachusetts on scholarship the summer after her father dies at 42 of pancreatic cancer. The lone middle-class Long Islander among more sophisticated New Yorkers, Jules never quite shakes the sense that she's an outsider. It's a feeling that's later exacerbated by her choice of husband (an ultrasound technician) and fallback career (social work therapist), though the enduring friendships she makes in overheated Teepee 3 during her first summer at camp change her life irrevocably.
Among the Interestings are beautiful, rich Ash Wolf, an aspiring stage director, and her handsome, arrogant ne'er-do-well brother, Goodman, whose parents' sprawling Central Park West apartment becomes the group's off-season headquarters and a seductive home-away-from-home for those from less robust families. These include the talented gay son of a famous Joan Baez–like folksinger who's been traumatized by one of his single mother's colleagues, and the homely but extraordinarily gifted cartoonist Ethan Figman, the only child of perpetually squabbling divorced parents.
Along with the unpredictability of converting talent into success, Wolitzer explores the baffling arbitrariness of physical attraction. Jules repeatedly rejects Ethan's advances, though they bond as soul mates for life. Wolitzer explains, "She'd valued him highly, but she just hadn't wanted him." It's a decision Jules often thinks about – especially after he turns his attentions to Ash and becomes fabulously rich from his "Simpsons"-type animated television show, "Figland," and again when life with her cuddly bear of a husband is most severely tested – but never really regrets.