Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings & Elegant S'mores
“They all seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness-in-waiting.”
Unlimited potential is what draws “the interestings," a group of creative teens at a summer camp for the arts, together. They are destined for greatness, and their respective arts have defined them both individually and as a group, superior to their ordinary peers. As the characters grow up, the reader gets the chance to see whether or not their supposed greatness plays out, and to consider what factors are needed to translate raw talent into success.
On the surface, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is a novel about lifelong friendships and the romance, envy, and deception that comes along with such intense relationships. Beyond that, it explores what it means to live an exceptional life. While of the characters pursue the arts into adulthood, others shift toward more “practical” careers, and we see the struggles that come with each path. The creatives must keep producing, and be careful not to let wealth dictate their points of view. Those who do not make it in the more exciting industries must come to grips with their lives and redefine personal success. Not everyone becomes famous or rich, yet everyone has a reason for existing.
As a teenager, you believe that you are destined for an obvious greatness. As you mature, you see your life take unexpected turns and return you to unexpected places. This novel, in following characters across a lifetime, ends up constantly reexamining greatness. As the characters grow, so to do their ideas about what it means to be an ‘interesting.’
This novel may seem daunting for a summer read, but the pages fly by, and as you near the end, you’ll find a sadness that comes with having to put it down. Wolitzer’s characters are believably flawed, not necessarily likable but always relatable. She presents slices of life over four decades with clarity, sprinkling in details about the music, politics, and economy of a country in constant flux.
Personally, this novel arrived at the perfect moment for me. A year after graduating with a degree in fine arts, I have already changed my perspective on creativity and life a multitude of times. I know the pressure that comes with trying to build a life based on passion, and that failing at a field you love can be crushing on many levels. Talent is so intangible, and success so elusive, it is easy to despair over choosing to take the road less travelled. However, no matter what path we choose, life charges forward, and we must continue to adapt in order to keep up with it. No single choice defines a life, just as no single lifestyle defines happiness. We all simply rearrange the pieces we are given until we find something that fits, and Wolitzer conveys this message with optimism and hope.
Though the novel follows the characters through their lives, it all comes back to that nostalgic first summer at camp, when their friendship was first formed, so I baked that most classic of all campfire foods: the s’more.
Memories of camp stay with the characters even as they grow up, and so I decided to create a refined, even elegant, take on the bonfire treat. These warm, gooey morsels feature the classic tastes from the campfire, yet are decadent enough to serve at your classiest dinner party.
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup dark brown sugar (lightly packed)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 1/2oz unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup honey (mild-flavored, such as clover)
- 5 tablespoons milk (full-fat is best)
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 5 tablespoons marshmallow fluff
- 2 tablespoons toffee pieces
- 1 bar premium milk chocolate (I used hazelnut flavor to complement the toffee)
For the dough
Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl. Mix on low, and add the butter in slowly. Continue mixing until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
In a different small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, prepare the topping by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and setting aside.
Roll out the crackers
Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Then, using either a rectangular cookie cutter, cut out four crackers. If you do not have a cookie cutter, you can use a ruler and make crackers about 4" x 2.5".
Place the crackers on one parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Decorate the crackers
Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer to prick the dough, form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch to each side of the dividing line. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
Mix the marshmallows
To create the marshmallow part of your s'more, you can mix any kind of topping you like in with the marshmallow fluff. I chose toffee because it gives the s'mores a nice crunch and a nutty flavor that is reminiscent of smoky wood and bonfires.
Build the s'mores
Once your graham crackers have cooled, spread the marshmallow fluff over one side. Lightly melt the chocolate and spread it over the other cracker. Then, you simply have to sandwich the two crackers together. Because the graham crackers are large, I cut them up to make bite-sized squares, like a s'more petit four. These s'mores are easily customizable —any combination of chocolate and a complementary flavor mixed with the marshmallow fluff will do. Try your own creations and share in the comments!