Study Guide

The Interestings Memory and The Past

By Meg Wolitzer

Memory and The Past

After a while, the raw and emotional material just started sounding to her like ordinary revelations. […] She even imagined herself as one of these people, sitting and talking about the long-ago death of her own father […]. They were relieved telling her about their pain. (4.47)

Memories and the past can cause lasting damage if not talked about. It's interesting that Jules seems to recognize the catharsis for her patients, though she doesn't ever really apply this revelation to her own life.

Her father was past tense now; the present could never be held, it did not allow it. (4.138)

How long does it take for something or someone to become past tense? Think about it in the context of the book, but also perhaps in the light of your own life, too.

"It'll be a little like when you see someone who's had a war injury and now it's a million years later, but their foot still drags a little. Except in my case, you have to know about the injury in the first place in order to see it." (5.80)

Jules would like that—Ethan is making the memory of his rejection an exclusive club for people in the know.

If hallucinating with Barry Claimes had been a one-off in 1970, Jonah Bay supposed the experience might have been folded into a whole life of experiences. He might have even been proud. (6.48)

Jonah thinks that perhaps a one-off drugging by Barry would feel like a novelty, but since it was a repeat performance, instead it's become a life-shaping event.

In twenty-five years she would return through a time portal in a changed, late-middle-aged-woman form […] but the tension itself would never be unlocked and released. (8.73)

We're talking about Cathy here. She does quite well for herself in general, rising professionally and such. Still, though, she carries the weight of her past—or, as it's called here, "the tension."

Goodman Wolf, Prep-School Park Prep, became just a small part of a big, seething story, mild in comparison with what would come. (8.128)

The verdict's still out (literally—Goodman avoids trial), but it seems possible that Goodman's life is the most governed by the past because he spends his life running from it instead of looking it in the eye and dealing with it, once and for all.

But maybe in life, she thought later, there are not only moments of strangeness but moments of knowledge, which don't appear at the time as knowledge at all. (9.61)

The past isn't entirely faulty and unreliable—we also have moments of clarity when we look back upon it.

"I try to remember, I was fun, and I can be fun again. But I keep finding myself unable to do that." (14.167)

Dennis hits on a crucial philosophy here: We can't actually return to the past, even if we think it was better; all we can do is try to match it as closely as possible, bolster ourselves forward with it. Even if it never really works.

Though Dennis hadn't gone to the camp, he had willingly been educated in its lore over the decades. It sometimes seemed to her that Dennis had gone there. (17.76)

Is it possible to end up in someone else's memories? Like if someone told you over and over again about some past event or place, would you start to feel like the memory was your own?

Though Jonah felt transfixed inside his own childhood, no one else saw him as a child. […] By now you were meant to have become what you would finally be. (19.49)

Here's the big problem with obsessing over the past: You're the only one. Each person has their own past, and no one shares.

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