A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Few people who show early talent go on to achieve stellar success. But their lives can be rich and wonderful nonetheless. That’s one of the messages of a new novel that spans four decades. It all begins when six teenagers become friends at an artsy summer camp in New England’s Berkshire Mountains. It’s the summer that President Richard Nixon resigns and the teens declare themselves special. The future awaits them with all the promises and pitfalls a fully lived life has to offer. From the ’70s to the present, the zeitgeist of each decade is woven into the story. A novel about love, luck, tragedy and talent.
- Meg Wolitzer author of several novels, including "The Ten-Year Nap" and "The Uncoupling."
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer. Copyright 2013 by Meg Wolitzer. Reprinted by permission of Riverhead Hardcover. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A new novel by the author of "The Wife," and "The Ten-Year Nap," centers on six people who meet at summer camp. Meg Wolitzer traces their decades-long friendship as they become adults and pursue careers. The novel captures the disappointments of unmet dreams as well as the joys and sorrows of success and love. Holding the friends together is the bond they form when then full promise of life lies ahead. The novel is titled "The Interestings."
MS. DIANE REHMMeg Wolitzer joins me in the studio, and throughout the hour I'll invite your calls, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning to you. It's good to see you.
MS. MEG WOLITZERGood morning.
REHMMeg, it's wonderful to know that I actually at one point interviewed your mother.
WOLITZERYes, you did.
REHMAnd now here you are.
WOLITZERI know. I think you have to interview my son soon.
REHMAh, congratulations on this novel.
WOLITZERThank you so much.
REHMYou know, the years 1974 to 2012, which the novel really focuses on are very special to me, sort of when I began my own career after having children, staying at home with them for 14 years. But in 1974, you have these six figures all meeting at a very special camp. Tell us about them.
WOLITZERWell, my main character is named Julie Jacobsen and she goes off to this camp in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and she is a suburban girl. She knows nothing about the world. Her father has died. Her mother doesn't exactly know what to do with her in the summer, and she gets a scholarship to this camp, and when she goes there, she meets these kids who are much more sophisticated than she is. But I don't mean in some sort of advanced, you know, bad way. They just know about art and the world, and they're all from New York City, and she just falls in love with them.
REHMAnd they give her the nicknames Jules.
WOLITZERThey do. And it's very funny because I realize this -- it is was a difficult thing to do. On the first page of the book, she's called Julie, and pretty soon, a few pages in, one of the other named Ash, a very beautiful actress at the camp, says go Jules when she does something. And that moment is transformative. Julie becomes Jules, and for the rest of the book, into her 50s she's Jules and she never looks back, and she wants to be part of them. She wants to be in this world.
WOLITZERAnd for me, you know, I did go to a summer camp very much like this. It's not a summer camp novel. I want to say that it follows, you know...
WOLITZERYeah. I mean, it starts there. I knew it had to start there because I have a feeling that when you came of age remains the most vivid moment forever. And I sort of say to people sometimes, do you remember something that happened when you were 15, and they all have some amazing story that they can tell that's stronger and more visual and visceral than something that happened in their '30s. So I see myself standing on a hill crying a little bit because I had to leave the smell of, you know, camp food wafting in the distance. I carried around a quilted journal all summer.
WOLITZERI have Ash, the beautiful actress character, writing in her own journal, sometimes I think I feel too much, you know. The feelings are like water overflowing, whatever she says. But one of the other characters who becomes really central in "The Interestings," is named Ethan Figman, and he falls in love with Jules right away, and he is the genius of the book. I mean, the book -- what I wanted to do was write about what happens to talent over a long period of time.
WOLITZERAnd if you think about the most talented kids you knew when you were young, you know, think of one person, what happened to them. We all thought, I mean, we're so innocent. When we were young we thought that if you were really talented, you would, of course, become famous. You know, that person was going to become a big star. But lives are not linear. They follow all kinds of paths. But Ethan, who is an animator as a child, and he comes up with a little cartoon that he calls "Figland" because his name is Ethan Figman, he actually does realize his true...
REHMHe really does, and makes millions in the process.
WOLITZERYeah. He becomes a kind of -- the show becomes a kind of "Simpsons"-like show.
WOLITZERAnd he is able to be true to his original creativity, which is so rare.
REHMBut, you know, as the novel opens, they are all lying in this sort of teepee.
REHMThe six of them, and sort of just tossing off comments. And it's there that Julie, who becomes Jules, begins to understand that people think she's funny, she's smart, she has a wry sense of humor that they all begin to like very much, and Ethan especially falls in love immediately with Jules.
WOLITZERYou know, for me, writing about that, that moment when you realize I have something, I think is something that everybody, you know, can remember.
REHMDo you think it's everybody of this particular era? Because I must say, going back as I do to an earlier generation, I never thought special.
WOLITZERNo. We've come to fetishize specialness in this company with gifted programs everywhere.
WOLITZERWe didn't think about it that way. My parents didn't think about it that way at all. In fact, there was so little oversight by parents who would say special. I'm just saying it from looking, you know, looking at the book sort of objectively to the extent that I can. I guess what they thought was, you know, I'm going to have an exciting life. That's really what it more about. Not that they were gifted or comparing themselves with one another.
REHMBut even the word exciting was not part of...
REHM...our vocabulary earlier.
WOLITZERNo. That's a great point. I'm trying to think of what it -- how they really would have thought of it. Maybe it was just a feeling. Like I -- when I think about that summer, that unbelievable summer -- because I had been to summer camps before, the kind of placed with color war, or one horrible camp where there was a riflery accident, and I was the pacifist who sat on the hill writing in my journal. But I finally found kind of my people but I, you know, I hadn't grown into them yet. I didn't know anything. What did I think, I mean, I just felt so good.
WOLITZERI felt so good being around them, being in plays. I mean, I started being in plays -- the way Jules is, she wants to be a comic actress because -- it's not that she has such a great gift for it, and in fact, when I think about myself in these plays, I was in a play at the camp I went to, and it was based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot. And this, you know, was long before "Cats," and I was hollow man number two. And Nora Efron directed a -- her first film was based on my novel, and the film was called "This is My Life," and it was her first film.
WOLITZERAnd she took -- there was a scene in that book, in which one of the sisters is hollow man number two. So I sort of pilfered it for that. So I couldn't use it again in this one. But there I was on stage in the Berkshire Mountains using this terrible acting voice I had, which kind of sounds like this. Headpiece filled with straw, alas, you know. And I just so wanted to be good. But the second best thing to being good is being thrilled.
REHMAnd Jules initially is thrilled by the laughter, by the response. She's never felt that before in her life.
WOLITZERNo. She had never gotten that kind of attention. I don't want to say she was mousy, but she was awkward. She goes for -- she gets a perm in her...
REHMJust before she goes to camp.
WOLITZERJust a terrible idea. I don't recommend that.
WOLITZERDo not have perms before going away or perhaps ever. You know, and her -- and she looks in the mirror and she can't bear how she looks, and her mother chases her through the parking lot shouting, don't worry, tomorrow it won't be so dandeliony. And I kind of had an experience like that. I mean, the book is not autobiographical except that the catalyst was that summer, and more than that was the idea of adolescence. Are we the same throughout our lives? When you think of yourself at 15, is it you? Is sort of is.
REHMIt sort of is, and that thread seems to carry through, but my goodness what life brings. And that happens to each and every one of these.
WOLITZERYeah. You know, I had to -- I've been sort of plot resistant in my writing before. Friends would tease me that I would have the dishwasher loading scene, and then it wouldn't even stay in the dishwasher loading. It's like somebody would have -- it would be like (unintelligible) , somebody, but not good, and somebody would suddenly think holding a fork, oh, I remember a fork that I saw in 1972, and then I've lost the whole dramatic thrust. But this time, you know, if you write enough novels, you start to realize you're writing the book you want to find on the shelf.
WOLITZERWhat I wanted to do with "The Interestings" was really write a big engrossing book that you wanted to kind of come back to that followed people and didn't shy away from the sort of emotional moments in their lives. Because if you look at anyone's life it's just, you know, it's filled with sadness and surprises and excitements.
REHMYou know, I was so impressed with Jules' forthrightness and honesty and kindness, because as we said earlier, Ethan falls in love with Jules almost immediately and tries to act it out by pulling her close to him. And she says, very sweetly and forthrightly, you know, I'm not there. I'm just not there. And it's a moment that I think any young person could read and recognize him or herself in, either feeling rejected or feeling pressed upon, or being more out there than perhaps they are comfortable with. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more about Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, "The Interestings."
REHMMeg Wolitzer is here. Her newest novel titled, "The Interestings," on how a group of young people who meet at summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains. She follows their lives from the time they meet in 1974 through all of the developments in their lives, how they interact throughout their lives through 2012. Before we carry on with the novel, here's a question. Wasn't there going to be a movie made from your book, "The Wife"? What happened? I've been waiting for a decade.
WOLITZEROh, that's a good question. "The Wife" has had a long history of being optioned and almost getting made. And actually right now there's a very exciting possibility of it getting made. I can't say too much more than that. But let me just say it would be a very fancy international production. So stand by on that one.
REHMAll right, stand by. And now, will you read for us?
WOLITZERSure. This is a little bit from the opening. "On a warm night in early July of that long evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only 15, 16, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons. And now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance.
WOLITZERThe tepee designed ingeniously, though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one when there was no wind to push into the screens. Julie Jacobson long to unfold a leg or do the side to side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here.
WOLITZERAnd, really, she knew she had no reason to be here at all. It had been miraculous when Ash Wolf had nodded to her earlier in the night at the row of sinks and asked if she wanted to come join her and some of the others later. Some of the others. Even that wording was thrilling. Julie had looked at her with a dumb, dripping face, which she then quickly dried with a thin towel from home.
WOLITZERJacobson, her mother had written along the puckered edge in red laundry marker in a tentative hand that now seemed a little tragic. Sure, she had said, out of instinct. What if she'd said no? She liked to wonder afterward in a kind of strangely pleasurable, baroque horror. What if she'd turned down the lightly flung invitation and went about her life, thudding obliviously along like a drunk person, a blind person, a moron, someone who thinks that the small packet of happiness she carries is enough.
WOLITZERYet having said sure at the sinks in the girls' bathroom, here she was now, planted in the corner of this unfamiliar, ironic world. Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit. Soon, she and the rest of them would be ironic much of the time, unable to answer an innocent question without giving their words a snide little adjustment. Fairly soon after that, the snideness would soften, the irony would be mixed in with seriousness, and the years would shorten and fly.
WOLITZERThen it wouldn't be long before they all found themselves shocked and sad to be fully grown into their thicker, finalized adult selves, with almost no chance for reinvention. That night, though, long before the shock and the sadness and the permanence, as they sat in Boys' Teepee 3, their clothes bakery sweet from the very last washer-dryer loads at home, Ash Wolf said, Every summer we sit here like this. We should call ourselves something.
WOLITZERWhy? said Goodman, her older brother. So the world can know just how unbelievably interesting we are? We could be called the Unbelievably Interesting Ones, said Ethan Figman. How’s that? The Interestings, said Ash. That works. The name was ironic, and the improvisational christening was jokily pretentious, but still, Julie Jacobson thought, they were interesting. These teenagers around her, all of them from New York City, were like royalty and French movie stars with a touch of something papal."
REHMThe self-absorption, the self-consciousness…
REHM...just absolutely extraordinary. Do you think that ever since 1974 that kind of self-absorption has become even more powerful among 14, 15, 16-year-olds?
WOLITZERWell, I think that period of the '70s, you know, the "Me" generation was perhaps a pinnacle. Except now with the internet, where you can sort of write about yourself, I'm going to the bakery now, I'm, you know, there's a different kind of self-absorption, like a mirror. And, you know, my last novel, which was called the uncoupling, part of it dealt with two generations, teenagers and the parents sort of feeling sadness that they felt that books were falling away for these kids and that what remained was the fast, rapid-fire world of internet, you know, of text messaging and that intimacy would be lost.
WOLITZERI'm not sure where I fall on all of that, but I do think self-absorption does belong to the young. I mean, sometimes it belongs to the old, too. But with a little luck, you peel it away like a skin and you leave it in the grass.
REHMAnd of course the intimacy question. Recently you've had young people involved in sexual acts, posting themselves on their own websites.
WOLITZERYes. And that is something that we did not have obviously. We didn't have the technology. But there was a kind of innocence about it, too. I remember talking with a friend about, you know, bases -- first base and second base, and all these things -- and really trying to figure out, like there was some moral sensibility that we had, even in the midst of this self-absorption. It had a sweetness about it, at least in my memory. You know, you never know if your memory is glazed over. It really might be.
REHMYeah, that's quite right. Quite right. So, let's move this on when camp is over. Jules returns, Begins spending time at Ash and Goodman Wolf's apartment and in the process becomes more and more dissatisfied with her own life.
WOLITZEROh, yeah. This to me was a sort of painful part to write. She goes to their apartment building. She keeps hearing them talking about the labyrinth and she thinks it's some secret club in New York City. And Ash makes a joke, Cerberus is our doorman. And Jules has to go to the library to look up to see who Cerberus was. You know, the dog guarding the labyrinth in mythology. And she -- the labyrinth turns out to be an apartment building on Central Park West that I invented.
WOLITZERAnd it's high up on Central Park West, and it's one of these majestic buildings. And this is a girl who lives in a town that I call UInderhill, NY, which doesn't really exist. But she lives on Cindy Drive and she's embarrassed now. You know, once you find other things, it's sort of like that horrible, how are you going to keep them down on the farm. Once she sees the world of New York City, it's very, very hard for her to return to Cindy Drive and the Dress Barn and all the things that were perfectly fine for her, if a little sleeping.
WOLITZERUntil meeting Ash and Goodman and their fabulous parents who are kind of just a little removed, a little distant. But the apartment having free, you know, having the run of these beautiful rooms, overlooking Central Park. And this being the 1970s, you know, a kind of vague debauchery. But, you know, with a sort of innocence, sort of puppy like, all sort of falling together. Couples do start to form.
WOLITZERAnd her mother, I think, is kind of hurt by this. And she just feels so Julie, Jules now, first she's changed her name. She comes home this different person. In fact, she says, she feels when her mother and sister pick her up that she's, it's like she's the victim of a silent and violent kidnapping when she has to go off in the Dodge back home instead of staying with these people.
REHMNow, does Jules ever invite Ash and Goodman back to her home?
WOLITZERWell, for a long time she does not invite anyone there and they never ask to go. It's this kind of understood snobbery. Class really has a big role in what happens to the talent. I mean, class, luck, money, connections, all of those things do. But later on, something happens in the book. There's a sort of dramatic turn that I think would be complicated to go into here. But when Ash is quite upset about something and the two girls are really best friends, she does invite Ash to her home.
WOLITZERAnd Ash comes. And Jules -- and she's very grateful to be there, to have a weekend away from everything, away from the city. But Jules can't help but being ironic. You know, there is that line that I read earlier about irony, you know, is like a summer fruit that had never been tried before. And she says to Ash, oh, here's beautiful Underhill, beautiful Cindy Drive. Look across the street, that's where Zsa Zsa Gabor lives.
WOLITZERYou know, she can't help but be her funny, ironic self. She can't sort of say, you know what, this is who I am, come to my house. Here's my mom. She can't do that.
REHMHow does she introduced Ash to her mom?
WOLITZERWell, she just sort of, you know, Ash, she just sort of lets Ash meet her mother. And her mother instantly likes Ash. And there's a kind of comfort between them. And I think it's a kind of slightly startling moment for Jules because she sees that maybe somebody might like her mother. And she's probably undervalued her mother who's been a widow. And, you know, looking back on it, when you think that these parents are, you know, in their early 40s, younger than I am, but seem old at the time.
WOLITZERThere's another mother in the book. There's a character, one of the Interestings, named Jonah and his mother is a famous folk singer. And she has a look that's not like any of the other mothers who wear pantsuits in Dacron or whatever those materials are. Jonah Bay's mother, Susana Bay, wears a sunset-colored poncho and this very, very long, flowing black hair. What mother has that? How exciting to have a mother like this.
REHMDo you think that schools these days do sort of the same thing in bringing people together but it's the atmosphere of summer camp that makes all the difference in the world?
WOLITZERYou know, I guess the world is divided up into people who went to summer camp and people who didn't. But for me, what I think, having figured it out over time, what I think makes sense and what is important here is the absence of parents, is the absence of adults. It's like the Peanuts cartoon. In order to come into your own -- I mean, I used to go into New York City. I grew up in the suburbs.
WOLITZERI used to go into the city with my parents and we would go to the Museum of Modern Art and we would sort of trudge around on 8th Street and in the Village, but I'm with my mom and dad and sister. How uncool is that? What's going to happen? What can I possibly experience that's an epiphany? Nothing. So I go away to this camp and you don't need to go to a camp to have that thing. But you need to have your own cohort.
WOLITZERYou need to find your people. You need to find things you're excited about. I remember going into the city and the Marx Brothers movie, "Animal Crackers" was out in this new print in some fabulous theater in the city, sitting there leaning against the velvety seat and quivering, my whole self quivering. I suddenly love the Marx Brothers. I suddenly want to go see an old Zeffirelli film.
WOLITZERI'm talking in an English accent. What has happened to me? You need to kind of go through that. It's almost a sort of hazing.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. To Charlottesville, VA. Good morning, Mary.
MARYGood morning. Thank you so much for taking my call.
MARYI have loved all of your books, Meg Wolitzer.
MARYAnd nothing got done work-wise or home-wise after I started this one.
WOLITZEROh, thanks. That's great.
MARYI was glued to my sofa until I finished it.
MARYWhat I wanted to ask you about is, what I find really remarkable about your books and this one, which is closest to my memory of course, is your development of what might be seen as more minor characters, Manny and Edie, the camp directors, and even some of the campers. I just found them so interesting and compelling as well. And just wondering how you manage to do that.
WOLITZERI guess when I write a novel, I tend to think that you have to create a world. If you're just focusing on the little details, if you're honing in where's the world. Every novel should have what I kind of think of as, like, a room temperature. It needs to be like a big room. It needs to be an enclosed membrane. And if you only have those characters in it, it's not going to feel fully populated and it's not going to feel kind of like life. And I'm trying to do an approximation of that.
REHMTell me about the founders, owners of the camp.
WOLITZERManny and Edie Wunderlich are these old socialists. And I describe them as old socialists in the diminishing world of old socialists. And I think those were the kind of people, really, who ran camps like this. They had a mission. They had an idea of a sort of utopian world, where teenagers could explore art, all kinds of art -- glass blowing, theater, you know, Brecht plays. These are not camps where they're doing Oklahoma.
WOLITZERYou know, this is like they're doing Caucasian Chalk Circle or I got to play the grandmother in "The House of Bernarda Alba," a play that I'd never heard of. I mean, in fact, I sort of -- in the book Jules sort of pretends that she's heard of more things. There's a little moment actually where they're talking about their favorite writers and somebody says Gunter Grass is basically god.
WOLITZERAnd somebody else -- and she says, oh, I haven't read as much of him as I'd like. Now, she never heard of him.
WOLITZERAnd then Ash says, I think Anais Nin is god. And Ethan, the dear heart of the novel to me, says, hey, both Gunter Grass and Anais Nin have umlauts. I'm going to get one for myself. That's clearly the key to success. So, it's a wonder Jules didn't put an umlaut over here name. But they are, the owners of the camp are really the kind of people who just want to see talent bloom. And I think there really are people like that.
REHMAnd that was the type of camp you went to.
WOLITZEROh, absolutely. It was a -- you know, it considered itself a school, a kind of workshop. It took itself very seriously. And, in fact, when I first went to the camp, I was shocked and I kind of thought it was too hard, in a way. And I remember calling my mother from the payphone in the grotto and sort of saying, they make us sing Mozart "Requiems" in the morning. And, you know, isn't that horrible. How terrible. How dare they.
WOLITZERAnd my mother just sort of saying, you know, give it time. And then next thing we know, there I am, in fact, I saved rather pathetically the big green music sheet from that. And of course it has Calamine lotion on it to show that I was there then. All that kind of stuff that everyone else was doing and nobody was complaining about. They wanted to spend their summers in this serious pursuit.
REHMDo you think your writing came from that experience?
WOLITZEROh, that's a really good question and I think it did, yes. I didn't, you know, I don't know. Have you ever seen the "7-Up," "28-Up" films, the Michael Apted films?
REHMNo, but I'm going to ask you about those after we take a short break from our conversation with Meg Wolitzer. Her new novel is titled, "The Interestings."
REHMIf you've just joined us, Meg Wolitzer is with me. She's written numerous novels, the latest of which is titled "The Interestings." All about six young people who meet at summer camp in 1974. She follows their lives, their ups and downs through several decades. The novel ends in 2012. Just before the break, Meg, we were talking about the Up Series by Michael Apted. Talk about that series and how you were influenced by it.
WOLITZERI loved these films. If listeners aren't aware of them, this filmmaker Michael Apted followed a group of British school children starting when they were seven years old and filmed them every seven years. Now a couple of them dropped away because they didn't like what it did to their lives or they were just too busy. But it was amazing because if you go back and look and see the seven-year-olds -- because the films do flash back -- you can see them talking about themselves and what they want to do with their lives.
WOLITZERAnd in some ways, you know, they are the same people who they were when they were seven but a lot of their dreams have changed, have been diminished. There was one girl whose father dies when she's an adolescent. And she'd seemed so snobby before. And now you find yourself so moved by her. She was an upper class girl. There's a lot about class in these films, which I think there's a lot about, you know, social class in my novel too.
WOLITZERBut one thing I was thinking about was the talent and dreams of young people, what happens to them. And does it -- you know, when we say talent, do you have to always have product? We're such a product-based society. You know, you have to have something to show for everything. And I was sort of looking at the summer camp I went to. And the girl who was the most talented one who we all were positive was going to go on to be a big actress, she did do theater for a while. And she ended up as a physician.
WOLITZERAnd I was, of course, surprised to hear that. She went to medical school quite late because I think she did try acting. And she had some regional -- did regional stuff. But is it a disappointment or are her patients just the lucky recipients of passion that she received that summer long ago, that she knew she wanted to do something important?
REHMBut the other aspect of this book -- and you do talk about this in the novel -- is that not only do things not stay the same, but that the group doesn't always stay together.
WOLITZERWell, this is something that they never tell you about adulthood when they give you that handbook. Do you remember the handbook that you got when you turned 21?
WOLITZERYes. In my handbook it did not say that all of you, this cluster would not be together forever, that you would have friends that you might not even speak to for years, and yet you would love them still. And it's something that's a sort of long learning curve for me about friendship. Because you always kind of feel when you're young that you need to sort of check in with each other. And I guess today with, you know, texting, it makes it easier to approximate that initial thing.
WOLITZERAnd yet, people have their own lives and their own families. And there's just so much time. We're mortal. We can't be with everyone forever, and that is a great sadness. So this group, while it starts out as a group, as "The Interestings," you know, continue -- and their notion they call themselves this ironically -- but as they go through life, Jules starts to realize that even though she once thought that everything was equal and everything was even, it isn't because some of them have been given more advantages. And another theme that comes in really is envy.
REHMEnvy as opposed to jealousy.
REHMI was fascinated by that differentiation in definition.
WOLITZERI'm trying now to get it right and I had read it somewhere that one is, you know, I want what you have and one is I want what you have but I want to destroy it so you can't have it.
WOLITZERAnd this is not what she feels. But she feels something that I hadn't really seen written about so much. So I kind of wanted to explore it, which was the quiet envy you feel for people you love. And I don't -- you know, I've heard tell that some feel this way. Not that I personally -- but it's like, you know, that little slightly depressed feeling that you can get?
REHMAbsolutely. I know it well. Let's go to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Ed.
TEDHi. It's Ted from Miami Beach.
TEDAnd I was fascinated when the author started to talk about her own life separate from the book, how excited and animated her voice was. And when she talked about the book in answering a question, it was much more analytical. So I was curious, is there that excitement in the book? Were you able to translate it or were you always analyzing your characters?
WOLITZERI think there was excitement at writing the book. I was very excited when I was -- actually the physical act of writing the book. I hated to be away from the characters. I sort of felt this sort of pathetic demented love for them. And when I finished writing something, I would send it to myself on my iPhone and I would read it on the subway. Because I wanted to keep thinking about the book
WOLITZERBut, you know, you're right that I'm sure there's a way that when I put on my writer hat it's like putting on the poetry voice. I come into the room. The oranges are on the table. You know, yeah, because it's my work life, but this was the most pleasurable book for me to write.
REHMNow, let me ask you about friendship and whether the friends that you have made and kept are the ones you made earlier in life, or have you allowed yourself to bring new people as close friends into your world later in life?
WOLITZERYes, both are true. The book is actually dedicated to my closest friend who I met that summer. And it was such a wonderful thing. She was Canadian. She was not from New York. She's Canadian and is Canadian and she just had this wonderful calm intelligence and lovely way about her. And I was so unfinished that I kind of blurted everything out to her. I just sort of lay in the grass beside her and told her things that I hadn't been able to tell my friends before. So there is that.
WOLITZERBut then later on there are all these points that you get, like little apertures, you know, into the world. And they're kind of predictable. College is one. And, you know, for me actually I went to arts colonies to write, you know, these wonderful places where they put your lunch outside your door. Although the sad thing about when you get your lunch put outside your door at 10:00 in the morning, everybody eats it, and the Milano cookies that come with it. And then you have the rest of the day. Oh my god, I have to work now I guess. But you meet people there and it's like summer camp for adults.
WOLITZERSo I keep saying, I don't have room for more people. I can't even keep up with everything. But you know what? If you meet somebody who sees the world in a similar way and makes you feel -- I guess who's protective, that to me is the sign of a friend.
REHMI too have been fortunate enough to have lifelong friends. Then a group met in midlife who are very important to me. And then late in life, surprising a friend should come into my life. It's really extraordinary.
WOLITZERIt's extraordinary, right, because you don't expect it. You don't think you need it.
WOLITZERBut then you realize you do.
REHMOh, and then you feel what pleasure, what enjoyment, what joy that new friend can give you.
WOLITZERBecause what friendships are, what they are in this novel, and I think what they are for me in my life, they're about being understood.
REHMAbsolutely. Let's go to Vivian in Salt Lake City, Utah. Good morning.
VIVIANGood morning. I am loving this show.
VIVIANI just want to comment. You just said that one of your closest friends after summer camp was from Toronto -- or Canada I should say. Well, I'm from Canada and I went to summer camp for seven or eight years when I was younger. And it was just the most transformative period for a young person. And when you're saying that you think there are two worlds, those who went to summer camp and those who didn't. And that is, for me, so true. The songs, the experience that you have that you couldn't get in any other way, in forming your own identity. And you can even create your own identity, that you don't have to live by when you go back to what we call the city.
VIVIANAnd it was just an amazing experience being away from parents and having your own independence, still having to make decisions. It was a lifelong experience to the point that I sent our two sons to overnight summer camp in Canada. I've realized that the Canadian summer camp model is very different than the American one in many ways. And they too had amazing, amazing experiences. But one question I will ask, I found it sometimes challenging to make that crossover with friendships after camp when that glue that held you together is no longer there.
WOLITZERYeah, that's really true and that's how you really see if this is a friendship that's sort of meant to last. Because if you keep talking about, remember that girl who is double-jointed, you know, that's not going to last through adulthood and that isn't going to work. But my friend and I, Martha -- my friend from that summer -- and, you know, she and I -- we sometimes -- we have what we call sightings. If we see somebody on the street who we knew back then, we say, I had a sighting today.
WOLITZERBut if that's the level that it's only going to stay at -- I mean, as it turns out, you know, she is such an interesting person and we don't really even talk about this anymore, except when I wrote the book it was very present.
WOLITZERWhat I -- I did a lunch the other day in Indiana. And I -- you know, the idea of sort of thinking of this in sort of summer camp terms and I sort of said, well who here went to summer camp? And, you know, maybe a third of the room did. And then I said, okay, well for the rest of you, you know, who here is getting older? So now I have the whole room because it's really -- yeah, I mean, some people who didn't go to summer camp don't understand it and loved their lazy summers at home or with their families.
WOLITZERBut I think even the ones who didn't had experiences where they were away thrust into a new place with people who excited them without adults, you know, closely flapping over them like winged monkeys.
REHMIndeed. You are also writing about an era in which young women become feminists, the '70s, the '80s. And Jules participates in a take-back-the-night march on camps in Buffalo. And Ash talks about how the theater world discriminates against women.
WOLITZERYou know, one thing that I think of when I think of the '70s is how feminism was something that was loomed very large in the culture. I recently went back and read Nora Ephron's essay in "Crazy Salad" about the women's movement. And I was so touched and moved by that. This was a very vital experience that changed the world. And the fact that it's sort of fallen away and become something that you don't hear about, you know, being spoken of as much -- nearly as much now is, you know, bewildering in some ways.
WOLITZERAnd yet, I mean, I was really affected by second wave feminism. My mother was too. My mother, who's a novelist, Hilma Wolitzer, was -- hadn't been to college. Her parents didn't think it was important. And she went to a writing class and basically sold her first short story to the old Saturday Evening Post. This is back in an era when women's magazines published fiction. So next to a Jell-o mold you'd see Joyce Carol Oates. You're not going to see that now.
WOLITZERBut I wrote away to the National Organization for Women because I started a consciousness raising group in high school and I wanted a list of topics. And they sent back a pamphlet that had things like, you know, marital satisfaction, when what I really wanted was, you know, taking the SATs? Don't stress out. But feminism has made -- has played a role in pretty much all my books.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Pittsburgh, Penn. Hi, Laurie.
LAURIEHi, good morning. I'm definitely buying Meg's book today because I've just really enjoyed the talk. And I'm a little older than Meg. And I also had my group of "Interestings," but for me it was college and high school. A lot of stuck together, hung out in Pittsburgh in college and then we wound up five years later in Massachusetts working high tech jobs, which was really very interesting.
LAURIELike you, I loved the Up Series. I just think it's an astonishing piece of work. And I think any writer would gain a lot from watching that. The final thing I would say is, it's -- you're never too late to kind of go back and do things you wanted to do when you were younger. I wanted to write and I wanted to act when I was younger, and for many years I didn't do that much of either. And now I'm doing both so you never know when you get the chance to go back and...
REHMGood for you.
REHMGood for you. Continue, Laurie, continue and good luck to you. One of the things we really haven't talked about very much is money and how it does play a role in this novel.
WOLITZERIt plays a huge role in this novel because Jules who comes from a family that doesn't have money is at a disadvantage. And Ash and her brother Goodman have a lot of money. And when Ash, well, marries Ethan -- I'm giving all of this away so -- but it's okay because the novel has a lot of other things that happen -- right away they're starting off with a leg up. And she thought -- as I said earlier, she thought that it was all going to be even but it never is.
WOLITZERYou know, I started to see that when I was young. People suddenly had an apartment that their parents bought them. And I thought, wait a minute. Wait, where's mine?
REHMAnd, you know, it is surprising, I have to say, that Ash the most beautiful of the six, marries Ethan who is funny looking, who's behavior is odd. He is the talented one within the group. He is the one who makes millions. She comes from wealth and she marries into wealth.
WOLITZERThat was a complicated relationship. They really do love each other. And her career as a theater director is helped along by his money, which is far beyond her parents' money. But it's kind of a world of sort of a continuance of money begetting further success. And when you see that from the outside, I mean, I had the realization writing this book that if Jules who marries a lovely guy named Dennis who's an ultrasound technician and the two couples are friends, if she had never met Ash and Ethan, her life with Dennis would've been good enough.
REHMMeg Wolitzer. Her new novel is titled "The Interestings." It was just published on the 9th of April. Congratulations.
WOLITZERThanks so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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