Meg Wolitzer’s ninth novel, “The Interestings,” follows a group of friends from a summer camp in the Berkshires, where they bond as teenagers in the summer of 1974, into the thickets of middle age, as they grapple with parenthood, marriage, disease, depression, and death. The long arc allows Wolitzer to track her immensely appealing characters’ relationships not only with each other but with ideas of talent and success, art and money, friendship and envy.
“Sometimes it takes a very long time to see the way that things have changed,” Wolitzer said in a phone interview. “The book was really a look at how a lot of things have changed over time.” One thing that hasn’t changed as much or as quickly as many had hoped, Wolitzer points out, is gender inequality — A THEME THAT RUNS THROUGH THIS NOVEL, ALTHOUGH PERHAPS LESS OVERTLY THAN IN SOME OF HER PREVIOUS WORK.
The author made waves with a 2012 essay about the way so-called women’s fiction is marketed, sold, and discussed. “Women are the fiction readers and buyers of fiction in this country,” she told me. “You really, really can’t overestimate how important women have been to fiction: book clubs, women talking about books, women buying novels. But there’s still this double standard.”
Although most of the friends IN HER LATEST NOVEL are native New Yorkers and end up living in the city as adults, their formative event — “that moment when you realize, ‘I’ve found my people,’ ” as Wolitzer puts it — takes place in Western Massachusetts, at one of those “particular New England kind of arty summer camps,” which may explain in part why the book is on The Boston Globe bestsellers list. That specific time and place of coming of age, she says, “remains such a powerful event for most people.” And since “one of the requirements for that happening is that parents or adults aren’t around in a big way,” it is fitting that it happened for her characters, as it did for Wolitzer, in the summer, in the woods.