Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Hopefuls - Jennifer Close

The Hopefuls
Title: The Hopefuls
Author: Jennifer Close
Publication Date: July 2016
Pages: 310
Genre: Political / Fiction
How I Found It: I'm not sure.
Date Completed: 1/4/17

Summary: Beth and Matt move to Washington D.C. when he gets a job with the Obama administration. Beth, a New Yorker at heart, hates it. At least until the meet the Dillons: Jimmy and Ashleigh. The couples become an inseparable foursome. As the years pass, their friendship and their marriages begin to erode under the pressure of cutthroat political culture.

What I Thought: Since I purposefully ended 2016 on a book called It's Not Okay, I wanted to start 2017 on a more positive note. While I knew this book wasn't going to be all sunshine and flowers, I figured the title at least, The Hopefuls, gave a good omen to start the year on a positive note.

Based on title alone, I think I ended up choosing the perfect book with which to start the year. Of course, "hopeful" is probably not the word I would choose to describe it. It's a good title, but it does not reflect the tone of most of the book.

Instead, the book dives into some of the darker, more troubling aspects of marriage and politics. It explores the balancing of love, career, and friendship. Jealousy abounds and ego prevails as both Matt and Jimmy attempt to climb the political ladder. I felt the book took a very realistic, if tough look at these issues. It isn't surprising to learn that Close's husband worked for the Obama campaign and they now live in D.C. She clearly has taken a culture she knows well and translated it into a great story.

I don't want to give away too much of the ending, but I will say that it felt hopeful to me. As I read, I was very worried about how Close was going to wrap things up. When things are on a downward relational spiral for all the characters, it can be hard to imagine everything ending up happy...or at least ok. Close surprised me, however. I was very happy with the ending. It required Matt and Beth to recognize their faults and commit to the hard work of commitment. I like seeing stories that end with a positive portrayal of marriage, even when it is so evidently difficult. While we do not all reach the depths of doubt and destruction that the couples do in the book, I think any married person can relate with some of their circumstances. 

The political aspects were extremely interesting, too. Having an avid interest in politics has certainly equipped me with a working knowledge of the dirty reality. Close did such a good job showing the small detail ramifications of that reality. The cutthroat nature of things among staffers is not something we always see in the public realm. It is definitely there, though. Reading the book reminding me a bit of watching HBO's fabulous political comedy, Veep. It's hilarious and crass and all the characters speak to each other in a ludicrously blunt manner. Kevin always comments how much he wishes he could talk to people so directly in real life. Close's characters certainly are not outright insulting each other, but the backstabbing is there lying close under the surface of things. 

Also, right after reading this book, this story hit the press and made me laugh out loud. Close has a whole thing about Jimmy and Matt practicing golf so that they may get to play with the President on a more regular basis and enter his inner circle. Clearly, this staffer, Marvin Nicholson, had some real-life success there. I can't totally tell from the article, but it seems Nicholson may have even held the job fictional Jimmy did.

I really enjoyed this book. It kept me hooked and I read it quickly. It's not bright and cheery by any means, but it holds so much truth. Marriage is hard and when you don't fight actively to keep it working, it can break down - particularly when faced with the strains of political life or when you getting things from friendships that you should be looking for in your spouse. The book left me feeling like things are hard - marriage is hard, politics are hard, friendship is hard - but when you keep your priorities straight and work hard, the hard things are so worthwhile and even enjoyable. That's why it feels like the right book on which to start 2017. We're coming off a hard year as a country and things don't feel particularly hopeful on the surface right now. But - if we buckle down and work hard, there is hope for the future. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Probably not, but I want to read more by this author
If You Liked This, Try: Fates and Furies / Landline / The Ramblers

A Reduced Review: While not particularly hopeful on its surface, The Hopefuls offers truth about marriage and friendship and how the political realm affects them both.

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