The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead • $27.95 • ISBN 9781594488399
Published April 9
Meet the Interestings: Jules Jacobson (aspiring comedic actress), Ash Wolf (aspiring playwright and director), Cathy Kiplinger (aspiring ballet dancer), Goodman Wolf (aspiring architect), Ethan Figman (aspiring animator) and Jonah Bay (aspiring guitarist). When we are introduced to this tight-knit group, they're teens attending a prestigious arts camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods, and it's the summer of 1974.
The Interestings follows these six friends from adolescence through middle age. Some find great success in their art, while others don't. From this dynamic pops some of the most vivid, unique and well-rounded characters I've ever read. This absorbing study of how friendships evolve over time—and are impacted by art, success, jealousy and money—is a true page-turner, nearly impossible to put down.
Here's an excerpt—the first couple of paragraphs of the book—to lure you in. And, if you do find yourself interested in The Interestings, then be sure to check out Meg Wolitzer's Behind the Book essay about what inspired her to write the book.
On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, 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 upswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed 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; and 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 word was thrilling. . . .
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."
"Why?" 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."
So it was decided.
What about you, readers? Which book is impossible for you to put down this week?
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
Riverhead • $26.95 • ISBN 9781594487361
On sale September 11, 2012
Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer (and a pile of other awards) for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I've always been all about Drown, his first collection of short stories and the book that singled him out as the most promising literary voice of the Dominican-American community. As much as the world recognizes him as a genius novelist, I have to say that when I heard the third book from Díaz would be a collection of short stories, I could barely contain myself. Victory for the short story!
Five years after Oscar Wao and 16 after Drown, Díaz didn't disappoint. The stories explore the strengths and failings of Dominican-American love and relationships, from cheating men to struggling immigrant families. Readers will recognize bullheaded Yunior, who first made an appearance in Drown and is a recurring protagonist in This Is How You Lose Her, as well as other characters like Yunior's brother Rafa.
One of my favorite stories from the collection, "Otravida, Otravez," does not star Yunior or any of his girlfriends, but rather a young Dominican couple trying to put down roots in the U.S. An excerpt is below:
"While he sits by the window and smokes I pull the last letter his wife wrote to him out of my purse and open it in front of him. He doesn't know how brazen I can be. One sheet, smelling of violet water. Please, Virta has written neatly at the center of the page. That's all. I smile at Ramón and place the letter back in the envelope.
Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn't do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel."
Keep an eye open for an interview with Junot Díaz for This Is How You Lose Her in our September issue!
The Last Nude by Ellis Avery
Riverhead • $25.95 • ISBN 9781594488139
Published January 5, 2012
I was drawn to Ellis Avery's The Last Nude because a) how could you not be drawn to that bold jacket? b) I had just finished An Object of Beauty and was on a novels-about-art kick and c) there's a big honkin' blurb from Emma Donoghue, one of my favorite authors, on the cover.
The story is about the real-life Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, and the relationship she strikes up with her muse, Rafaela, the woman depicted on the jacket in the painting Beautiful Rafaela. By the way, this painting sold at Sotheby's in November. The winning price? $8.4 million. I'm embedding a video from Sotheby's below the excerpt, where you can see the Vice President of Impressionist & Modern Art talking about the piece.
But back to the book (which can be yours for only $25.95). I'm enjoying the story because the setting is wonderful (Paris in the 1920s) and the relationship between artist and muse is believable and intriguing. As Megan Fishmann writes in a review in the January issue of BookPage, "Avery weaves historical fact with electrically charged narrative . . . Filled with fabulous literary anecdotes and characters that seem to leap off the page, The Last Nude is a novel perfect for lovers of the 1920s, of Paris or simply of love stories."
Here's a scene from the first day that Rafaela models for Tamara. Tamara has made her wear a plain dress while she poses. After looking at the other portraits in Tamara's apartment, Rafaela wishes she could look more glamorous.
As the minutes passed, I realized I no longer felt uneasy. I felt jealous. Why did I get the ugly dress, the ugly painting? And why didn't Tamara paint my face? The painting next to the mannish woman showed a nude—sleek, modern, Olympian—with her arm across her face. Was this Tamara's kink? She didn't paint faces? No, I saw plenty of faces in the room, some, to be honest, not as nice as mine. It was as if, by putting me in the ugly dress, she had made herself blind to me. Beautiful, she'd said. Did she really think so? I wanted to take off my dress and lie down on that velvet couch for her: I wanted her to see me in the grand way she saw the others.
What are you reading today? Are you interested in reading The Last Nude?
Here's the video:
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Riverhead • $25.95 • ISBN 9781594487804
April 14, 2011
If you can relate, then have I got a book for you. Wendy McClure's charming new memoir is about her obsession with "Laura World," and her search for the truth behind the beloved series.
It's a fascinating read, and it's also quite funny. For example:
And, oh my God: I wanted to live in one room with my whole family and have a pathetic corncob doll all my own. I wanted to wear a calico sunbonnet—or rather, I wanted to not wear a calico sunbonnet, the way Laura did, letting it hang down her back by its ties. I wanted to do chores because of those books. Carry water, churn butter, make headcheese. I wanted dead rabbits brought home for supper. I wanted to go out into the backyard and just, I don't know, grab stuff off trees, or uproot things from the ground, and bring it all inside in a basket and have my parents say, "My land! What a harvest!"
What are you reading today?