Wolitzer’s 538-page epic (because of the time span it covers) is an ambitious failure. Wolitzer successfully creates the lives of 5 members of the privileged class and 1 (necessary) outsider as they spend a summer at an arts camp together. She conveys the urgent self-importance of being young and inclined to the arts. But in this Big Chill wanna be of a story, Wolitzer neglects to make any of the characters – not likable or even dislikable – she neglects to make them, well, interesting. (Wolitzer asked for it with a title like that.) They are all one trick ponies, even the narrator. Though this might incline the reader to think that situation was more important than character, Wolitzer does not go in that direction. She ping-pongs among the characters and gives each their token issue and we’re meant to have our tears jerked from us.
The writing is sloppy in places, with figurative language that jolts rather than describes.
But it’s the privilege piece that bothered me the most. Yes, wealthy folks have troubles and they matter (and they can make for interesting stories), but it’s the lack of recognition that perturbed me. These folks are incredibly self-involved. Even when our heroine writes that her values have been kidnapped, she’s writing it from a luxurious Italian hotel room that she’s allowed her friends to pay for. If that’s Wolitzer’s idea of internal angst, I’m sorely disappointed. Also, everyone in this New York-based world is white. That’s the default color. Consider this (342):
Patrick was a big guy, a former Marine, with a shaved head and a saintly manner, married with four kids; Loreen was black, small, dreadlocked, single, full of ambition.
Why is Loreen’s race mentioned? Why isn’t Patrick’s? Loreen, by my count, is one of three characters of color in the entire novel. The one who has the largest speaking part has AIDS. The other is a dancer who has a brief relationship with one member of the sextet and ends up dancing for Alvin Ailey. Really?
Wolitzer had high ambitions for this book – there are things she wants to say about growing up, growing old, looking back, having talent, being interesting, etc.. But the book falls incredibly flat. An utter disappointment.