The uninterestings

The smartest woman in the room, a Harvard graduate with a successful literary agent practice who has read countless books, loved The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer.   It is the epic fifty year story of friends from summer camp, who met the summer after my closest friends and I met at summer camp, and stayed close thereafter, their lives intertwining over the decades, as, amazingly, ours had.  My two closest friends were so excited by the book that they bought me a hardcover copy, in large print, no less, a kindness to my old eyes I always appreciate.  

I began reading the book, which starts from the point of view of an insecure, working class teenager Julie, a girl who is flattered to be taken in by a group of the coolest kids at camp, who rename her Jules.  This little group, The Interestings, forms the dramatis personae for the rest of the book.  I confess, I had a hard time making progress with the book, it struck me, from the start, as profoundly uninteresting, though context may have played a large role, as I will describe.  I got the audio version from the library and listened to it, determined to hear the whole thing.

Toward the end of the book the depressive husband of Jules tells his wife that her lifelong fixation with these Interestings has always been a mystery to him.  Aside from sharing an intense bond as teenagers, what was actually so interesting about any of these interestings?  He certainly spoke for me, and I suspect, many readers.

The pretty rich girl who was the queen of this little group wound up rich and successful, and married to a billionaire.  Her brother, a charming kid much loved by the females, wound up an expatriate in France, when it became clear he might be indicted for rape.  The eccentric, creative kid who couldn’t stop drawing and making little animations, became a billionaire, which is what happens to real geniuses, I suppose.  The musician became an engineer, I.  forget what became of the rape victim, though I think she remained friends with the others.  Jules became a social worker, I think. 

We didn’t wind up talking about the book my friends of fifty years had loved so much they bought me a copy of it.  Now that I think about it, we’d rarely discussed any books we’d read in common, beyond a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  It was not terribly long after I read The Interestings before a fifty year friendship with my two closest friends was over.  That’s fairly interesting, I think.

My friend flew into a rage at me over a conflict that, were she not so angry, could have been easily resolved.  Her righteous husband forced her to apologize to me the next morning, after I’d had a sleepless night, traumatized that my closest female friend had glared at me with a contempt I’ve only seen from my long dead father.  This famously willful woman’s loss of control, the show of rage, and the forced apology, I now understand, were mortifying to both of my old friends. 

Although I immediately accepted her crabbed apology, which, while blaming me for the entire incident seemed nonetheless sincere and the best she could do, they couldn’t accept my apology the following day for using the fucking “f-word” in a moment of anger.  Her husband rallied to his wife’s side, telling me I had no right to expect him to understand my feelings, because he was too upset by what I’d done (the f-word!) to hear about them.  In the space of two days, it was grimly clear these lifelong friends were no longer my friends.  It took me over a year to stop agonizing and see the obvious because it all made no sense to me.

My old friend called after the hellish five days in a beautiful rented house that ended our friendship and began “wasn’t that a great vacation?”  It went quickly downhill from there.  Next stop, a month or so of silent treatment from a friend I always communicated with a couple of times a week.  Then a demand to meet, and at that meeting, his wife beside him, he began “I’ve walked away from friendships for less than what you did to me.”  Instead of verbally punching him in the mouth, which, in hindsight would not have been unreasonable, I reassured him of my friendship and he accepted my assurance, handed me a great book they’d bought for me.

Reading this book, some part of me must have understood the superficial aspect of the whole thing, the intimate friendship beyond question, the need to tell the same cover story, stick to the dramatic script, swallow hurt because your hurt is humiliating to someone who claims they love you like family.  And, like family, you simply have to unconditionally accept the faults of your parents, your siblings, your flawed uncles and cousins. 

The rap goes like this: being family means that nobody ever has to hear or understand why what they’ve done hurt the other family member.  Family is a sacred bond that cannot be broken, except by vicious, unforgiving, treacherously angry people falsely claiming to be hurt and who can’t let go of their childish grievances.  You understand that if I hurt you, I love you more than you are hurt, so it’s a wash and stop trying to talk about whatever you claim I did to you.  It is your problem, not mine, not the family’s, dummy up, be quiet, swallow our version of what you think happened quiescently or you’re going to be fucking sorry.  You don’t threaten the family, you fucking filthy mouthed fuck!

Interesting, maybe.  On their influencer daughter’s Substack page recently there was a long post with advice about how to endure difficult people, presumably those who intrude with strong opinions and feel they can never be wrong.  These people, she suggests, must be placed on an UNSAFE list and only dealt with when you have all of your personal matters for the day taken care of.  Funny to find myself on that list, but, yo, that’s family for yuh!  You’d have to be a reckless idiot to risk a million dollar inheritance to indulge the need for someone your family deems unsafe to have a word in your ear.

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