This is the first in a new feature we’re calling Worth a Read. Each Monday we’ll provide a short book review, giving you a plot summary (no spoilers!), our impressions of the writing, and our rating of Buy (great) or Borrow (a qualified good). We hope you enjoy it and it helps you sort your reading list. L & C
The BUZZ: This book continues to show up on bestseller lists. A New York Times Book Review and Washington Post notable book; a Time book of the year. This is Wolitzer’s 10th novel.
The GIST: Six teenagers meet at a summer arts camp in 1974 and remain connected all their lives. This is the story of what becomes of each of them – together and apart – until they are in their 50’s. One member of the group is wildly successful (think of someone like Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons), so it’s also the story of how we can envy people we love. The characters are real people of a type – white, affluent, well-educated, urban – and I was intrigued by each of them.
The WRITING: Insightful. Wolitzer tells her tale at a low and steady pace, at some times being very specific about events and at other times skimming over years as her characters simply grow older. In other words, it’s a life story told via the highlights, which is pretty much how we all tell our life stories. But in these punctuation points, lives twist and turn, and this fascinates Wolitzer, as it fascinates me. Wolitzer’s writing in this novel (and I have not read her others so cannot compare) is elegant and deceptively spare; she is not looking to impress with clever or obtuse sentences but, instead, with her understanding of human motivations.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. I finished it and immediately read the first chapter again. I realized then that Wolitzer had shared the entire story in just that single chapter, almost like a tease. In many ways this is the message of her book: it’s all there in front of you, but you don’t see it until some life event lifts a curtain and reveals it.
QUOTE: “But clearly life took people and shook them around until finally they were unrecognizable even to those who had once known them well. Still, there was power in once having known someone.”