Top: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Earl Jeans, Marshalls
Shoes: Chinese Laundry, DSW
Bag: Candie's, Kohl's
Belt: Wet Seal
Smiley Star Necklace
Sweater: Arizona Jeans, J. C. Penney's
Jeans: City Streets, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Bag: Chinese Laundry, J. C. Penney's
Belt: Wet Seal
Dress: Mossimo, Target
Shoes: a.n.a, J. C. Penney's
Bag: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's
Stars take center stage in this week's necklaces and ensembles. It's no wonder that these space-age shapes have appeared so prominently in our decor in one form or another since, well, the big bang. Everyone, it seems, wants to follow, wish upon, or become a star. Our society celebrates superstars, star-crossed lovers, star witnesses, and, once upon a time, Star Jones (even I wasn't immune, having owned not one but two pairs of pumps from her Payless line). So it makes sense that so many people strive to see their names in lights. Such was certainly the case for the characters in Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, a novel that explores and questions the demands of stardom.
In the interest of full disclosure, for me this began as a "broccoli book." You know. Hard to get through but more intrinsically valuable than, say, a Popsicle (which was unexpected, what with the cover boasting Popsicle colors). It was slow and plodding until the halfway point, then somehow snookered me into being unable to put it down. That said, maybe it's more of a veggie-dessert hybrid. Although not one of those dreaded kale shakes; that albatross seems more appropriate to symbolize something truly atrocious, like a treatise on manufacturing beeswax.
A saga that starts in 1974, The Interestings (ahem) stars awkward, frizzy-haired Julie "Jules" Jacobson, who is shipped off to the arts camp Spirit in the Woods on scholarship the summer after her father dies. Shy and insecure, she hails from Long Island instead of New York City, and her family doesn't have much money. So she's dazzled one night when beautiful and popular Ash Wolf handpicks her to hang out with her and her friends in the boys' tepee. In the way of self-important adolescents, the six fifteen-year-olds (three boys and three girls) bond over books, parents, and aspirations, deciding to name themselves "The Interestings," secure in their belief that such an illustrious label will guarantee them glittering futures. Julie, to her surprise and delight, cracks everyone up, immediately becoming "the funny one," a role that's sealed when Ash casually calls out, ' "Go, Jules!" ' (16) instead of "Go, Julie!" Eager to accelerate her diamond-in-the-rough transformation, Jules is taken aback when an odd boy from their group, Ethan Figman, invites her to see his cartoons. Described as "unusually ugly," Ethan has one of those faces that only a mother can love -- except for his, apparently, as she ran off with his pediatrician. It was the pain of his parents' tempestuous marriage that drove Ethan to create Figland, a cartoon about an imaginary world discovered by an unhappy outsider much like himself. Ethan is instantly smitten with Jules; she gets him and his art and is "one of his kind" as INXS would put to song thirteen years later. And so he tries to kiss her. But she, overcome by his mushroom smell and strangeness, recoils, establishing the first bittersweet bookend of this stirring story.
In the decades that follow, the Interestings are obsessed with making a living as artists, never considering that their art can be something they do just for themselves -- until it's almost too late. Jules, who longs to be a comic actress, the kind of quirky friend character who never gets the guy but rattles off strings of memorable one-liners, is dismayed to find that lots of other twentysomething women in New York City want that, too -- and that they're much better at it. Yet it isn't until her acting teacher gives her a tough love speech that she questions her path:
' " We are all here on this earth for only one go-around. And everyone thinks their purpose is just to find their passion. But perhaps our purpose is also to find out what other people need. And maybe the world does not actually need to see you, my dear, reciting a tired old monologue from the Samuel French collection or pretending to be drunk and staggering around. Has that ever occurred to you?" ' (233).
Jules promptly quits acting, enrolls in graduate school, and becomes a therapist, a grueling and low-paying, albeit ultimately rewarding profession. Romantically, her life follows another unlikely trajectory when she marries Dennis, an unartistic but kindly ultrasound technician who plays touch football on the weekends -- and who, incidentally, suffered a nervous breakdown in college. Stranger still, a tragedy involving Ash's brother and fellow Interesting leads to marriage for Ash and Ethan. Ash's beauty and social connections add polish to Ethan's ragtag art kid persona, and Ethan's unequivocal genius lends depth and, eventually, financial support to Ash's earnest but unremarkable efforts as a feminist theater director. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship, not unlike Jules and Dennis's therapist-patient dynamic -- although it's usually clinically depressed Dennis who provides emotional support for the increasingly bitter and unbalanced Jules -- raising the question of what it means to be soulmates. Although the two couples remain close into middle age, the friendship is difficult for Jules, who envies Ash and Ethan's success, and for Dennis, who, however quietly, resents the bond between Jules and Ethan.
Although the novel is billed to be about friendship and art, its true message, like that of so many other novels, is the value in living an honest and ordinary life. Wolitzer shows this partly through Jules's, Ash's, and Ethan's attitudes about art, but mostly through the love triangle that stretches between them. Unforgiving in its angles, it leaves betrayal, unrequited love, and, for one unlucky lover, even death in its wake. But in doing so, it reveals true love and happiness for the enlightened, if battle-scarred survivors, proving, once and for all, that it's only trouble that is interesting.