The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close; 2016
The Hopefuls is Jennifer Close’s most recent novel, published this past July. It is essentially a novel about Washington DC – its people, its complicated roads, its politics, its snobby Maryland suburbs. Here, I guess, is finally the non-NYC novel I was looking for (although the main character of course relocates from NYC to DC). I did feel like this was an over-exaggerated portrait of DC, or perhaps just a narrow focus on a specific group in DC. It was all about campaigning ALL of the time. And I love political television dramas, so I don’t think I’m necessarily opposed to political-talk. It was just all-consuming. Anyway, that’s just a disclaimer for you if you’re not into politics, but you are into Jennifer close – be warned.
Beth is the narrator of The Hopefuls. She is a young wife who follows her husband, Matt, to DC to pursue his dream of one day running for office. Harvard-educated Matt was a lawyer, but quit his job to work on the Obama campaign. They move in 2009, just after Obama wins the election, and we follow them through the years of the Obama administration. Beth arrives in DC and immediately hates it. There’s a lot of complaining going on: she hates how women commute to work in sneakers (um that’s practical, girlfriend), she hates DC traffic circles and is also afraid to drive because she comes from NYC – sigh), she hates Matt’s White House staffer friends who only talk about the campaign (can’t blame her for that), she hates even the grocery stores. But a couple of months after moving to DC, she meets Ash Dillon, who is also new to DC from Texas, and married to Jimmy, an alluring and charismatic White House staffer. Beth and Ash are instant BFFs despite their differences, and the couples immediately start doing everything together. Perhaps too much together. The novel takes off from there, depicting the friendship between the couples that divulges into jealously and competition.
I enjoyed Girls in White Dresses and thought that Close’s short sentences and matter-of-fact humor were well-served by the short story/vignette style of her first novel. However, these characteristics carried through to The Hopefuls, which was more of a novel in the traditional sense, and I didn’t feel like it translated well. There were a lot of almost awkward reader moments for me where I read something and was like, I know this is supposed to be funny, but I didn’t laugh. There’s a lot of sarcasm that’s delivered deadpan, and it’s not immediately obvious what’s supposed to be a joke and what isn’t. The other problem with Close’s style for me is that her characters never seem to be able to develop. Beth is so passive it’s maddening.
The biggest disappointment for me, however, was that throughout the book it was implied that something sinister was going on with Jimmy and Ash that would eventually be revealed. They were secretive toward Beth and Matt, and Close made a point to imply that something shady was happening with them. But nothing ever came of this secretiveness, and when “the moment” finally happens its anticlimactic and disappointing. I think if there had been a twist with Texan couple I would have felt much differently overall about The Hopefuls. I still finished this in two days, and I found it compelling enough, but it was really just so-so for me.