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The Hopefuls


The Hopefuls

“Every politician should have been born an orphan and remain a bachelor.” Wise words from Lady Bird Johnson, and she should know. This sage statement is also used as an axiom in Jennifer Close’s new novel, THE HOPEFULS.

When embarking on a career in politics, you never realize how often you might be called upon to compromise your time, your energy, and sometimes even your integrity. Even less is thought of just how it will affect those around you. When Beth, a writer in her late 20s living in New York City, decides to follow her ambitious husband, Matt, to Washington, DC, she finds herself struggling to gain a foothold in this new world. Even for a Wisconsin girl, Beth adapted quickly to the fast pace of New York City. But in DC, all anyone wants to talk about guessed it…politics. “All the people there reminded me of high school student council members, the ones who fought for pizza lunches and dance themes with great passion. They were all so eager. (And borderline annoying.)”

Matt is a lawyer who has recently started a job in the White House counsel’s office. This would be the beginning of his career in politics --- a career he has been planning for his whole life. Beth had been laid off from her job at Vanity Fair in New York and wanted to support her husband and this move, but she is finding it harder to adapt to this strange, work-obsessed new city.

"THE HOPEFULS is an insightful, engrossing and entertaining look at marriage and ambition, set against the backdrop of the rousing world of politics."

Not only is it tough finding a place in this new town, Beth also struggles with fitting in with her husband’s boisterous and over-achieving family. The Kellys are a large, loud brood living in nearby Maryland. Babs Kelly, the exacting matriarch, expects a great deal from her children, and youngest son Matt is her golden boy, as eldest son Patrick has turned out to be less than ideal in her eyes. In Matt, Babs sees someone who can really soar in the cutthroat world of DC politics with aplomb. As her sister-in-law (and Patrick’s wife) Rebecca once observed: “They think they’re the fu**ing Kennedys. Look at them. They think they’re so special. Charmed.” And delivering a sort of coup de grace to Beth: “You have it the worst though…. Because if they’re the Kennedys, you’re married to John-John.” And since Beth has no interest in their competitive touch-football games, the Kelly compound is yet another place where she feels sorely out of step.

But soon there is a light on the horizon for Beth and Matt, in the form of Ashleigh and Jimmy Dillon, a brash young couple from Texas, whom they befriend and quickly become inseparable. Jimmy is a White House staffer who’s easily identified by the crowd around him wherever he goes. He has a loud laugh and a confident swagger, while Ash is the embodiment of Texas womanhood, right down to the just-so hair and red lipstick. Jimmy is known by most everyone in Washington, and Matt looks up to him as he tries to navigate his way to a better job. Ash doesn’t work and loves to Groupon, and arranges fun little outings for her and Beth, in an effort to get to know the city better. Soon, the two couples are as thick as thieves and the source of each other’s entertainment: “On the weekends when the Dillons were out of town or we couldn’t get together, we felt lost…. If I thought about it too much, the whole thing made me nervous, like maybe we needed the Dillons to be happy…. It was almost like the four of us were all dating each other, like we were one big couple.”

Jimmy’s star is quickly rising at the White House, and even though they are close, Beth can see that Matt is a little envious of his new friend. Despite his ambition, Matt is having a harder time rising through the ranks. When he was considered as a potential candidate for State Senator from Maryland, he spirits soared with plans of a move to the suburbs and a campaign to organize. His dreams are soon dashed when the sitting senator decides not to retire and vacate his seat. Matt is devastated and finds it hard to regain his momentum. Beth plugs along working at DCLove, a website that tries to make the world of DC politics more glamorous. It’s not as rewarding as her job in New York, but it’s something.

Jimmy and Ash announce they’re going to have a baby and, not too long after, that they’ll be leaving DC for Jimmy’s new job with Facebook: “When the Dillons told us in April that they were moving, I cried…. But to be honest, there was a part of me that felt relieved, that thought maybe it would be better for us if we didn’t spend so much time with them. They were just so lucky, so charmed. Everything was working out for them, life was unfolding exactly as it should --- and most of the time, it seemed like it was all happening without any effort on their part…. Sometimes when we were around them, I’d feel a sharp sense of betrayal, like they’d left us behind.” Beth and Matt soon find themselves facing new questions and possibilities in their careers and their marriage.

THE HOPEFULS is an insightful, engrossing and entertaining look at marriage and ambition, set against the backdrop of the rousing world of politics. Much like Joanna Eberhart had to navigate the strange new world of the wives of Stepford, Beth Kelly has to find her way in this world obsessed by power and position, all the while supporting her husband’s ambitions while trying not to lose sight of her own. Close has a knack for artfully telling a relatable story in a breezy, readable way. Much like her two previous novels, GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES and THE SMART ONE, she examines those pivotal years of your 20s and 30s, and the choices one makes when laying down the foundation for adulthood.

When observing the Kelly clan or Jimmy and Ash’s life, words like “charmed” and “lucky” are often used. Well, the readers of Jennifer Close’s latest novel are the “charmed, lucky” ones, who are better afterwards for the experience.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on July 22, 2016

The Hopefuls
by Jennifer Close

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 110191145X
  • ISBN-13: 9781101911457