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 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
As 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.