The Hopefuls are Matt and Beth, a New York couple who relocate to Washington D.C. when Matt starts working in the Obama White House in 2008. They are young and idealistic and full of all that … well, hope I guess, that we all were in 2008. Great set up! I haven’t read any fictional accounts of that time, and it is vivid in my mind. Jennifer Close captures this time in place quite accurately, and it feels poignant, especially in light of the hellscape that is our political landscape right now.
Before leaving New York, Beth gets laid off from her writing job, so she moves to DC unemployed. And a little bitter. Actually, she HATES Washington, and spends literally the first quarter of the book complaining about it. Okay, we got it, girl. It’s a one-industry town, and if you aren’t in politics you are on the outside. Eventually things get better when Beth finds a job writing for a DC blog and Matt makes a friend at work, Jimmy, who has a wife Ashleigh, and they all become best friends. Jimmy and Ashleigh are very welcome to the story, a Texas couple who liven things up considerably. Jimmy is the picture of charisma, and if the rumors are to be believed, something of a playboy, and he rises in importance quickly, which makes Matt very envious. Beth and Ashleigh become great friends who go places and do things, which actually provides Beth with a bit of a narrative that isn’t just reacting to Matt for a while.
Soon enough, Jimmy decides to run for office himself and asks Matt to run his campaign, and they all move to Texas. In Texas, Jimmy is far behind in an insignificant race for railroad commission (this is a thing) and Matt is frustrated and taking it out on Beth. And Beth is doing… legitimately nothing. And this is the problem with the book, I think. The story is set from Beth’s point of view, and the story is not even remotely about her. She is almost consistently passive and that gets very annoying. In the beginning, even though she has a job and separate friends, the only thing she talks about is Matt’s job. When they move to Texas it gets even worse, she doesn’t work or write or even see or talk to anyone outside of the four of them, and she barely even helps to work on the campaign. By the time something actually happens to Beth, I had lost interest entirely.
I love Jennifer Close, I feel like she writes like she is talking about me and my friends, in some way. Girls in White Dresses was my favorite of hers, a collection of related stories following a group of women after college, it is funny, smart and sad. I recommend reading Girls instead of The Hopefuls. Close is a great writer, and I was sad that I didn’t enjoy this book, and frustrated that such a great set up and idea turned out so flat.
Grade – C+