Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is not wholly devoid of value, though. It allows us to see with greater clarity what the new era we are entering into will be like. Everybody in The Interestings is a throwback to the past that is now gone and cannot be brought back.
The novel’s characters share one defining feature that completely takes over their lives: they have no capacity whatsoever to look inside themselves for solutions to their problems or even for an insight into what these problems are. This is all the more shocking given that the novel’s protagonist Jules is a psychotherapist. Even that, however, doesn’t make her aware of the existence of psychological problems either in herself or in anybody else. Like the rest of the characters, Jules spends her entire life beating her head against the same old issue that bothered her in adolescence without moving an inch in the direction of resolving it or progressing to the next stages in her development.
As Ulrich Beck once pointed out, we are entering an era where there is no alternative to looking for “biographical solutions to systemic contradictions.” This means that the only thing you can do to improve your lot in life is changing yourself, simply because there isn’t much more that it is in your powers to change. One could refuse to accept this new reality or one could try to adapt to it. Both are valid life choices, in my view, although for myself I have very obviously chosen the latter. What I do find unacceptable is a profound incapacity ever to recognize the existence of these choices. I don’t get people who spend their entire lives in the state of staring in shock at their own existences, asking “And what the hell was that?”
Wolitzer’s characters are the perfect example of people who live in the state of a deadly lack of self-awareness. This is a way of being in the world that was maybe possible 20 or 30 years ago. Today, this option is no longer available. And when I look at the characters in The Interestings, I can’t avoid thinking that maybe that’s not such a bad thing at all.