Getting It Wrong to Get It Right

Christmas Critics

No one says growing up is easy, and four of the novels I’ve read this year reiterate just how challenging the journey from youth (or youthfulness) to maturity can be. More than mere coming-of-age tales, these books also manage to situate often painful emotional experiences within the context of larger societal concerns.

When, in Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (Riverhead, $27.95, 480 pp.), protagonist Julie Jacobson is initiated into the most intriguing group of summer campers at Spirit-in-the-Woods, she finds a way to escape her mundane suburban routine and forge relationships lasting far beyond the summer. Rechristened “Jules,” she goes on to become a social worker and marries a sonogram technician, while remaining close with troubled best friend Ash and the wildly successful Ethan. But the passage of years prompts self-examination and reevaluation of those friendships: Is what I’m giving, Jules begins to wonder, worth what I’m getting in return?

The complex economies of lifelong friendships isn’t Wolitzer’s only subject in this novel, her best to date. She also examines the difference between espousing principles and actually applying them, and the challenge of converting creative impulses into meaningful artistic endeavor. And in its detailed portrait of the decades-long friendship between Jules and Ethan, the book has something rarely seen in popular fiction: an authentic relationship between a woman and man, intimate but not romantic...

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About the Author

Alyssa Rosenberg is features editor at ThinkProgress and the television columnist for Women and Hollywood. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, New York, Slate, and elsewhere.