A Year of Favorites

When I was a teenager, I read the longest, most complex books I could find. I spent months trying to decode Finnegans Wake, slogging through In Search of Lost Time, finding Tristram Shandy hysterical, looking up all the references in Gravity’s Rainbow, and marking the margins of my copy of The Waves with so many notes that it became its own kind of illuminated text. In 1995, I remember going to the bookstore the second it opened on the day William H. Gass’s 26-years-in-the-making novel The Tunnel was released—all so I could grab a copy while the ink was still drying. That was fine and dandy, and it shaped the way I think today, but now that I work an intense job, come home to a wife and two small children, and drink coffee because I actually need it to stay awake, I just want a fucking plot.

So, in 2013 I went through an Elmore Leonard phase, reread a bunch of Hemingway, and I’m currently crying my way through Donna Tartt’s brilliant The Goldfinch, but the best new book I’ve actually finished is Meg Wolizer’s The Interestings. The 480-page novel follows a group of teens who meet at an artsy/bohemian summer camp in 1974 through to middle age. In a lot of ways, it’s a book I’ve read a million times—you’ll be reminded of DeLillo and Franzen, and others who echo them—but I was drawn-in by Wolitzer’s characters, and as things went on, the specter of death, disease, and the quiet contentment that was able to exist in spite of it. There are great people inhabiting the book, like Jonah, the gentle son of a famous folk singer who ends up going to MIT, building robots, and falling in love/coming out of the closet at the start of the AIDS epidemic, the always-somehow-out-of-water Jules (our main narrator), and the cartoonist Ethan Figman, who broke my heart with his attempt, and failure, to understand and love his autistic son. The way Wolitzer positions things, we’re able to witness hippie culture, spend time with the Moonies, experience New York City in the 80s, and come to terms with 9/11. It’s funny, panoramic, instructive, and she’s great at drawing up memorable scenes that stick with you as the pages fly by; but mostly I loved the sunsetting sadness of the later chapters: It’s one of those books that can make you nostalgic for things you haven’t experienced firsthand, and unlike a lot of page-turners, one I can imagine returning to again.

Brandon Stosuy is an editor at Pitchfork.

Follow Vol. 1 Brooklyn on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, our Tumblr, and sign up for our mailing list.

Tagged with →  
Share →
  • For over 30 years, since she published “Sleepwalking” when she was 23, Meg Wolitzer has turned out consistently excellent books. She is the most underrated American novelist I know.