≡ Menu

Reviewletts: ‘The Interestings’ and ‘Telegraph Avenue’

It’s been a bit of a crazy week, so I’m behind on some of the reviews I want to write. But life happens and you just have to go with the flow. Luckily, I have a stash of mini-reviews in draft form waiting for just such a week. Today I’ve got mini-reviews of two recent-ish novels that I liked but didn’t totally adore. Still, I can recommend both The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon to the right readers.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

the interestings by meg wolitzer coverThe summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

While I was not as entirely enamored with The Interestings as I know many people have been, I still really enjoyed reading it. I loved Wolitzer’s twisting plot, which shifts back and forth in time and perspective in a lovely way. And I loved the way that Wolitzer wrote about the particular jealousy of friends. She perfectly captured that sense of rooting for the people you love while simultaneously wondering and feeling insecure about how your own life is working out. This one was great.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

telegraph avenue by michael chabon coverAs the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples’ already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe’s life.

You may remember that I read Telegraph Avenue as a readalong with Florinda (The 3R’s Blog), which was wonderful since it is the kind of book you want to spend time talking about to figure it out. The impression I was left with was that the book felt more ambitious than it needed to be. I loved parts and was frustrated by parts, but I always had a little nagging feeling like it was sprawling too much and that it would have been able to say more if Chabon had tried to do a little less. That said, the writing was just gorgeous — visceral and raw and evocative and all those good adjectives. Chabon a pleasure to read, even when the story isn’t going where you want or expect it to go.

Disclosure: I borrowed a copy of The Interestings from my local library and brought home a copy of Telegraph Avenue from Book Expo America in 2012.

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Flickr

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sandy June 19, 2013, 5:36 am

    I started out loving the audio of The Interestings…the prose was very chatty, and the characters felt familiar, so I had almost no trouble being plunked down amongst them. But after awhile it seemed to wander. Still I did enjoy it. I have never read Chabon. I tried to listen to Yiddish Policemen on audio and had to stop. I haven’t thrown in the towel though, I’ll read him yet.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:29 pm

      The Interestings does definitely wander, especially back and forth in time. I think I would have had a hard time following an audio book. I’m glad you liked it though!

  • Rebecca @ Love at First Book June 19, 2013, 7:30 am

    Both you and (I’m pretty sure it was The Relentless Reader) were not in love with The Interestings . . . and I totally trust your bookish opinions, so it’s one I think I’ll skip. Although the cover is super interesting.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:30 pm

      I didn’t dislike it or anything — I definitely liked it enough to recommend it to people — but I just don’t think I loved it as much as I’ve seen other people gush about it.

  • Amy June 19, 2013, 9:01 am

    I have to admit Interestings was a DNF for me. Cue the corny jokes about it not interesting me.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:30 pm

      Lol. I love a good corny joke. I actually read a review on Goodreads that commented the characters weren’t as interesting as they thought they were which was sort of the point, right? That we’re never as wonderful as we thought we were at 16?

      • Amy June 24, 2013, 7:16 am

        Maybe that was part of my problem with it–I didn’t want to be reminded of me at 16!

  • bermudaonion(Kathy) June 19, 2013, 9:32 am

    I think I might like The Interestings but I have a feeling reading Chabon’s books are too much work for me.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:31 pm

      He is a writer that takes work. I think it’s worth it, but definitely not someone to read lightly.

  • Nikki Steele June 19, 2013, 2:40 pm

    I’ve read a few others of Michael Chabon’s works and while I always appreciated them, thought they were done well, and had exquisite writing, there was always that feeling lacking after I finished them. I didn’t LOVE them, you know? I think that overwhelming scope of the story is actually what I couldn’t put my finger on before with his earlier works. Hmm. Great to hear your review of this one as well.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:31 pm

      I’m trying to think if I had the same reaction to Kavalier and Clay, and I just can’t remember. That’s the only other Chabon I’ve read, but it makes me curious to pick up other books to see if they have similar scope questions.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading June 19, 2013, 5:08 pm

    The Interestings is holding my best book spot so far this year, but I felt very much the same about Telegraph Avenue. It was a really frustrating read for me, mostly because I think Chabon is a better (much, much better) writer than he is storyteller lately.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:32 pm

      That’s a nice, succinct way of putting it. His writing is just flawless and beautiful to read. The story, meh.

  • Athira June 19, 2013, 5:43 pm

    These are both books I need to read. I remember enjoying Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling but not loving it. It was definitely a different kind of book. The Interestings seems to sound similar to me so I’m not really eager to read it but I hope to try it some time.

    • Kim June 23, 2013, 8:32 pm

      I felt similarly about The Uncoupling, enjoyed but didn’t adore. I liked The Interestings better, but still wasn’t head over heels for it.

  • Jennifer July 3, 2013, 6:54 pm

    Both of these sound interesting to me. I’m not sure if I’m necessarily going to be rushing out to read either one of them, but if they do find their way into my world, I would probably find something to enjoy about them.