Study Guide

The Interestings Part 1: Moments of Strangeness / Chapter 1

By Meg Wolitzer

Part 1: Moments of Strangeness / Chapter 1

  • We open in medias res with a gathering of teens that call themselves the Interestings.
  • Only a few seconds in, the protagonist pops up—Julie Jacobson, "an outsider and possibly even a freak" (1.1).
  • Julie tries to go unnoticed in the corner of the… teepee? Wait, where are these people?
  • We get introduced to Julie's first fear: someone noticing her and then wondering what she's doing among the cool kids. Harsh.
  • Miniature flashback moment: While standing in the bathroom, a girl with a ridiculously hip name, Ash Wolf, casually invites Julie to hang out.
  • More of the flashback happens and we get the sense from the old, ratty towel Julie uses to wipe her face that she doesn't come from a wealthy family.
  • Julie fantasizes about what it would have been like to turn down the glorious opportunity to be part of the Interestings.
  • There's a moment of narrative wistfulness when we learn that these teenagers are firmly in the ironic years where nothing is said straight.
  • Fast-forward at blinding speed as their entire lives are rolled up in a couple sentences that take you through their adult years.
  • Jumping back from that little-did-they-know kind of moment, it becomes obvious that they're at a summer camp and currently chilling in Boys' Teepee 3.
  • Enter Goodman Wolf, Ash's older brother with an equally improbable name.
  • Ash decides the group should have a name.
  • In a moment of biting sarcasm, they christen themselves the Interestings, and toast with joints and vodka and Tang. Classy.
  • Julie clearly worships these people.
  • We find out the group is from NYC, while Julie hails from the apparently dismal New York suburbs.
  • Context, finally: It's the summer of 1974, which explains the joints and the surprising bitterness of these teenagers.
  • All the President's Men is the hot topic of the day and the teens see it as a representation of horrific adulthood; Nixon gets compared to a slug.
  • There's a brief mention of the camp owners, Manny and Edie Wunderlich, who are described as "two aging Socialists" (1.12). 1970s, remember?
  • The story turns to one of the other members of the teepee group, Ethan Figman.
  • Ethan is ugly as all get-out and hugely popular at the camp, based on how he's being hugged and greeted by everyone.
  • Julie and her sister Ellen come upon this scene and Ellen says something mean about Ethan.
  • There's a big ol' foreshadowing moment where Julie defends this random stranger because she feels protective of him.
  • With an abrupt segue into Julie's backstory, we learn that her father died a few months ago from pancreatic cancer.
  • It's a weird and hilariously morbid moment, but Julie remembers getting her period while her dad was dying and not being able to use the bathroom since he was always in it.
  • Turns out Julie's dad died in January and she went to the summer camp on scholarship to get away from the depression and sadness in her house.
  • Our suspicions about the Jacobson family's low finances are confirmed.
  • Shifting back to present-day, we find out that Ethan's an animator and the chief joint-roller in the party.
  • Another player in this scene pops up—Jonah Bay, who appears to have no defining characteristics yet besides being the son of a famous folksinger.
  • Nixon comes up again because, hey, it's the 70s.
  • Next to Jonah sits Cathy Kiplinger, a well-endowed fifteen-year-old who dances all day.
  • King of the group, Goodman Wolf sits above everyone on a top bunk and the story tells us he's big and lazy and mysteriously influential among the other campers.
  • There's another quick little-did-they-know moment about Goodman, whose life ends up on an "alarming trajectory" (1.23).
  • We finally learn the camp is called Spirit-in-the-Woods.
  • The Wolf kids are a cornerstone of the camp and have been for several years.
  • It's clear the narrator loves foreboding little bits of story, so we're told that they all spend one more summer there and then only four of them meet up as adults.
  • Apparently Julie becomes Jules at some point in the near future—right now, however, Julie is an awkward teen with a terrible perm her mother got her.
  • What would have been a funny moment turns abruptly sad as we learn Julie got a perm because she destroyed her own hair while her father was dying.
  • Jonah brings in some cassette tapes and everyone pretends they like the music because he does; they pretentiously discuss books by "spiky and disaffected European writers" (1.33).
  • There's a brief, startling reminder that they're all in school when they mention summer reading for class.
  • As all teens do, the group discusses their parents, and we find out Ethan's are separated.
  • Ash invites everyone to the Labyrinth, though she doesn't explain what that is.
  • We learn through Julie's head that Ethan spends his free swim period in the animation shed with a former Disney production member, Old Mo Templeton.
  • Julie thinks about all their saliva mixing through sharing a joint and starts laughing to herself; Ethan designates himself Julie's protector (at least in her mind).
  • Julie falls in love with the group as a single entity.
  • Ethan's parents aren't just separated—his mom is sleeping with his pediatrician.
  • Ash and Goodman's parents, Gil and Betsy, are "happy as clams" (1.55), and they seem a little proud to have that kind of home.
  • There's a brief reference to the My Lai massacre, which shuts everybody up for a second.
  • Ethan makes fun of Goodman's name, and they all mock a girl who is supposedly named Crema Seamans.
  • Goodman jumps down from the upper bunk and sits on Cathy's feet, but she doesn't seem to mind.
  • Julie makes her first comment out loud to the group, and they reward her with their attention; Goodman calls her Jacobson, which makes her super happy.
  • Julie makes a funky mock toast, and Ash christens her Jules—her place in the group is officially cemented.
  • Jonah picks up the guitar and plays a little. Jules is wowed.
  • An Icelandic camp employee, Gudrun Sigurdsdottir, breaks up the party and sends the girls back to their own tepees.
  • Ethan catches up to Jules and takes her to the animation shed to show her his drawings.
  • Jules watches an early version of Ethan's Figland cartoon and realizes he's a genius.
  • Ethan completely misreads everything and tries to kiss Jules, but she rejects him, and Ethan decides it's because she's inexperienced—not, you know, because he smells "mushroomy, feverish, and overripe" (1.124).
  • Ethan convinces her to reconsider dating him.
  • Back in the girls' tepee, Jules and Ash bond over "moments of strangeness" (1.142).
  • Cathy interrupts Jules's story time, though, and Jules misses out on the opportunity to tell Ash what happened with Ethan.
  • The girls settle into bed for the night and Jane Zell tells them about her sister with the neurological disorder.
  • Cathy sympathizes by telling them about her dream to be a dancer that's hindered by her large breasts. Totally the same thing… er…
  • Nancy Mangiari takes out her cello and plays; Cathy dances and gives the girls life lessons about men.
  • The story jumps ahead through the next few weeks of camp where Ethan and Jules spend a lot of time together.
  • Jules tells Ethan about her father's death and sings him the folksong he used to sing to her.
  • Ethan tells her the song is about nuclear testing, and shares his own stories about his parents' fights.
  • Jules realizes she sadly never knew much about her dad, and somehow this leads to a Freudian moment of her and Ethan making out.
  • We learn that Jules has quickly become someone at the camp, including an actress in the camp plays.
  • Jules becomes addicted to the laughter she gets in a comedic role.
  • Jonah's mother makes a surprise appearance with a former bandmate, Barry Claimes.
  • Susannah Bay sings her signature song to the campers, and later learns her son left during the performance. Burn.
  • Jules muses about the weirdness of her friendship with Ash and Ethan.
  • Ethan talks about Susannah's melancholy song in the hopes of depressing Jules enough to want to kiss him again. Um… way to be a creep, dude.
  • Jules finally tells Ethan she won't keep trying to respond to him, and firmly insists it isn't what she wants.
  • They watch Goodman and a random girl from camp kiss, and Jules gets aroused thinking about kissing Goodman instead of Ethan.