On a warm night in early July of that long- evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed to unfold a leg or do the side-to-side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here; and really, she knew, she had no reason to be here at all. It had been miraculous when Ash Wolf had nodded to her earlier in the night at the row of sinks and asked if she wanted to come join her and some of the others later. Some of the others. Even that wording was thrilling.
Julie had looked at her with a dumb, dripping face, which she then quickly dried with a thin towel from home. Jacobson, her mother had written along the puckered edge in red laundry marker in a tentative hand that now seemed a little tragic. "Sure," she had said, out of instinct. What if she'd said no? she liked to wonder afterward in a kind of strangely pleasurable, baroque horror. What if she'd turned down the lightly flung invitation and went about her life, thudding obliviously along like a drunk person, a blind person, a moron, someone who thinks that the small packet of happiness she carries is enough. Yet having said "sure" at the sinks in the girls' bathroom, here she was now, planted in the corner of this unfamiliar, ironic world. Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit. Soon, she and the rest of them would be ironic much of the time, unable to answer an innocent question without giving their words a snide little adjustment. Fairly soon after that, the snideness would soften, the irony would be mixed in with seriousness, and the years would shorten and fly. Then it wouldn't be long before they all found themselves shocked and sad to be fully grown into their thicker, finalized adult selves, with almost no chance for reinvention.
That night, though, long before the shock and the sadness and the permanence, as they sat in Boys' Teepee 3, their clothes bakery sweet from the very last washer- dryer loads at home, Ash Wolf said, "Every summer we sit here like this. We should call ourselves something."
"Why?" said Goodman, her older brother. "So the world can know just how unbelievably interesting we are?"
"We could be called the Unbelievably Interesting Ones," said Ethan Figman. "How's that?"
"The Interestings," said Ash. "That works."
So it was decided. "From this day forward, because we are clearly the most interesting people who ever fucking lived," said Ethan, "because we are just so fucking compelling, our brains swollen with intellectual thoughts, let us be known as the Interestings. And let everyone who meets us fall down dead in our path from just how fucking interesting we are." In a ludicrously ceremonial moment they lifted paper cups and joints. Julie risked raising her cup of vodka and Tang—"V&T," they'd called it—nodding gravely as she did this.
"Clink," Cathy Kiplinger said.
"Clink," said all the others.
The name was ironic, and the improvisational christening was jokily pretentious, but still, Julie Jacobson thought, they were interesting. These teenagers around her, all of them from New York City, were like royalty and French movie stars, with a touch of something papal. Everyone at this camp was supposedly artistic, but here, as far as she could tell, was the hot little nucleus of the place. She had never met anyone like these people; they were interesting compared not only with the residents of Underhill, the New York suburb where she'd lived since birth, but also compared with what was generally out there, which at the moment seemed baggy suited, nefarious, thoroughly repulsive.
Briefly, in that summer of 1974, when she or any of them looked up from the deep, stuporous concentration of their one- act plays and animation cels and dance sequences and acoustic guitars, they found themselves staring into a horrible doorway, and so they quickly turned away. Two boys at camp had copies of All the President's Men on the shelves above their beds, beside big aerosol cans of Off! and small bottles of benzoyl peroxide meant to dash flourishing, excitable acne. The book had come out not long before camp began, and at night when the teepee talk wound down into sleep or rhythmic, crickety masturbation, they would read by flashlight. Can you believe those fuckers? they thought.
This was the world they were meant to enter: a world of fuckers. Julie Jacobson and the others paused before the doorway to that world, and what were they supposed to do—just walk through it? Later in the summer Nixon would lurch away, leaving his damp slug trail, and the entire camp would watch on an old Panasonic that had been trundled into the dining hall by the owners, Manny and Edie Wunderlich, two aging Socialists who were legendary in the small, diminishing world of aging Socialists.
Now they were gathering because the world was unbearable, and they themselves were not. Julie allowed herself another slight degree of movement, crossing and recrossing her arms. But still no one turned and insisted on knowing who had invited this awkward, redheaded, blotchy girl in. Still no one asked her to leave.
Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer. Copyright 2013 by Meg Wolitzer.