Book Club Discussion Questions for 'The Interestings' by Meg Wolitzer

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"The Interestings" by Meg Wolitzer, published in April 2013, is a 469-page novel that may seem on first reading like a simple story of how friendships formed as teenagers during summer camp evolve over the years with the characters. In fact, the novel has many threads that book clubs might choose to discuss—dreams and expectations, secrets, relationships, and marriage are just a few.

Synopsis

The novel opens in the summer of 1974—the year that President Richard M. Nixon resigned—when six teens meet at a summer camp called Spirit in the Woods and become fast friends. In the story, Wolitzer follows the lives of the six over the decades, as they remain good friends but suffer the trials and tribulations that accompany any life: dashed dreams, altered expectations, unrealized goals, and twists and turns in life choices. Some are more successful than others, coming closer to realizing their long-ago dreams, while others diverge into fields of work and courses of life that they did not foresee as teens. But, the six remain friends well into middle age, while the novel explores the impact of life on each of them.

Discussion Questions

These questions are designed to spark conversation and help your group go deeper into Wolitzer's novel. If your group is in New York City, there is a lot about life in that city over the decades. The questions explore some of the issues of life choices noted previously, but feel free to bring up others and to discuss the overall role of secrets in the novel with your book club. Spoiler alert: These questions reveal details of the story. Finish the book before reading on.

  1. "The Interestings" is divided into three parts: part I–"Moments of Strangeness," part II–"Figland," and part III–"The Drama of the Gifted Child." Do you think these titles or divisions are particularly meaningful to the story?
  2. Jules is one of the main characters in the novel, and one of her biggest struggles is contentment and envy. Early in the novel, Wolitzer writes of Jules, "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." Later, when Jules is reading Ethan and Ash's Christmas letter, she says, "Their lives were much too different now for Jules to have kept up a sustained level of envy. Mostly, she had given up her envy, had let it recede or dissipate so that she wasn't chronically plagued by it." Do you think Jules ever conquers her envy? Do you think her experiences at Spirit in the Woods and friendships with "The Interestings" actually made her happier? Why or why not?
  3. What did you think of Dennis and of his relationship with Jules? Was it good? Did you sympathize more with him or with her?
  4. Did you sympathize with the ways the characters had to adjust their expectations about life, love, and greatness?
  5. What did you think of Ethan's giving financial help to Jules and Dennis? Was that an appropriate expression of friendship? How can friends navigate very different financial realities?
  6. Did you have any camp or teenage experiences that were as formative as the six characters had when they attended Spirit in the Woods?
  7. The biggest secret in "The Interestings" is that Goodman is still alive and in contact with his family. Why do you think Ash never told Ethan? Do you think he would have reacted differently to finding out if Ash had been honest with him?
  8. Do you think Goodman raped Cathy? Why or why not?
  9. Jonah also holds on to a secret from his childhood for most of his life—that he was drugged and his music stolen. Why don't you think Jonah ever told anyone? How did this secret change the course of his life?
  10. Ethan secretly loves Jules his whole life. Do you think he also truly loves Ash? What do you think about his other secrets—contacting Cathy, doubting his love for his son? Are they as big as the secret Ash keeps from him? Why or why not?
  11. Were you satisfied with the end of the novel?
  12. Rate "The Interestings" on a scale of 1 to 5.
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Miller, Erin Collazo. "Book Club Discussion Questions for 'The Interestings' by Meg Wolitzer." ThoughtCo, Apr. 10, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-interestings-by-meg-wolitzer-362010. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2021, April 10). Book Club Discussion Questions for 'The Interestings' by Meg Wolitzer. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-interestings-by-meg-wolitzer-362010 Miller, Erin Collazo. "Book Club Discussion Questions for 'The Interestings' by Meg Wolitzer." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-interestings-by-meg-wolitzer-362010 (accessed May 11, 2021).