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When Beth arrives in D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn't work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy, and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunches, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy s star rises higher and higher, the couples friendship and Beth s relationship with Matt is threatened by jealousy, competition, and rumors. A glorious send-up of young D.C. and a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, this is the finest work yet by one of our most beloved writers."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-23
- Reviewer: Staff
In Close’s (Girls in White Dresses) uneven fourth novel, writer Beth Kelly reluctantly leaves New York City to move to Washington, D.C., due to her husband, Matt, and his promising job in politics. He hopes to run for office one day, having been groomed for glory since childhood by his overbearing mother, Babs. Unfortunately, though he has the drive, Matt lacks the charm and charisma that his handsome friend Jimmy Dillon has in excess. With jealousy and admiration, Matt watches Jimmy fulfill his ambitions with ease. In the meantime, cosmopolitan Beth forges an unlikely friendship with Jimmy’s unrefined but sweet wife, Ash. Though Close’s novel is initially snappy and engaging, it becomes a slog once Beth follows Matt to Texas, where he begins work on Jimmy’s local campaign. Unemployed Beth endures endless days of monotony and repetitive election talk, growing apart from Matt and Ash as Ash turns maliciously gossipy and Matt irritably begins to shut her out. The formerly tight foursome begin to get on one another’s nerves, although Beth starts to think of Jimmy as more than a pal. The novel’s strengths lie in documenting how stress changes people, the work that marriage requires, and the importance of having a passion of one’s own. A welcome tension returns to the story as an inevitably fruitless election night looms, but not enough to recover the lost momentum of the book’s tedious middle pages. (July)
Novel takes on democracy
Whatever one may think of politics, one has to concede that elections provide juicy material for works of fiction. Two new novels offer very different portraits of modern politics, yet share common traits, including an insider’s view of the political process and sacrifices required in the quest for power.
The feistier of the two novels is The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear, by Stuart Stevens, a political consultant who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. The Dow has plummeted, and the government has divided Google into separate companies. When the incumbent Republican president chooses not to seek re-election, two candidates vie to replace him: Hilda Smith, the sitting vice-president, and Armstrong George, the fire-breathing Colorado governor who—sound familiar?—wants to build a large security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The narrator is J.D. Callahan, Smith’s campaign manager, who hopes a Smith victory will help him become a pundit with his own TV show. First, however, he has to get through the GOP convention, which, coincidentally, is in Callahan’s native New Orleans. His job is complicated, however, by his two half-brothers: one a former felon who wants financial help for his run for public office, and the other a neo-Nazi who owns a strip club and may be responsible for bombs that have imperiled the convention. The humor may be too broad for some readers, but this funny, fast-paced novel offers a perspective that only a seasoned campaign strategist like Stevens could provide.
Jennifer Close’s latest, The Hopefuls, set during the first six years of the Obama administration, is a more somber affair. Beth, our narrator, moves from her beloved New York to D.C. so her husband, Matt, can pursue his dream of entering politics. (Close moved to D.C. with her own husband, who also worked on the Obama campaign.)
Shortly after their arrival, Matt and Beth meet Jimmy Dillon, who works in the White House travel office, and his wife, Ashleigh, a Texas gal who tells Beth minutes after meeting her, “I can just tell we’re going to be best friends.”
The couples grow close, but Matt soon becomes jealous of Jimmy’s more exciting job, with duties that include flying to Hawaii to perform advance work for the Obamas’ vacation and playing golf with the President. After Obama’s re-election, Jimmy moves to Texas with Ashleigh to run for railroad commissioner and asks Matt to manage his campaign. But the campaign puts a strain on both marriages, especially when Jimmy starts spending time alone with Beth.
Unlike Stevens’ book, The Hopefuls focuses on a retail form of politics: going door-to-door, attending church picnics, canvassing for votes. Yet both novels entertain with keenly observed inner-circle perspectives and shrewd insight into how personal politics can become.