Beth loves New York City, so it’s with some reluctance that she moves to Washington, DC, for her husband Matt’s career. And from the second she arrives, she hates everything about the city—the humidity, the political culture, the name dropping. As she tries to make a home for herself in DC, Matt finds himself increasingly unsatisfied with his job. The two connect with a Washington, DC, couple on the rise, but the jealousy and professional intrigue may end up tearing Matt and Beth apart for good.
The Hopefuls was a hard read for me—a great read—but a difficult one because of my circumstances when I picked it up. I’d lived in Washington, DC, for 11 years, and was in the process of moving. I hadn’t told most of my friends about leaving yet, and I was having mixed feelings about leaving the city I’d called home ever since college. And then I read this novel, that pinpointed so many of the things I don’t like about DC in such a smart, witty way. It felt like my last, frayed nerve endings being stomped upon, but it was incredibly worth it.
The culture of DC is hard to describe and baffling to most people who haven’t experienced it. The optimism and hope, the earnest belief in public service, mixed with a grating culture of name dropping, games of who-do-you-know, and the stories you hear over and over and over again from the same people. Close nails her portrayal of it; anyone who’s been baffled by the way DC culture operates has been Beth. They remember the strangeness, feeling like an outsider, not sure of the social norms in this entirely new world.
And yet, the novel itself is compulsively readable. It might be an easy conclusion to draw from my reaction to The Hopefuls that I didn’t enjoy the book, but that isn’t the case. I actually thought it was incredibly well written, and in fact, I read it in one sitting. Close develops her characters in such an interesting way—Beth is the only fully developed character in the novel, but that’s on purpose. Close wants the reader to feel Beth’s sense of isolation from those around her, trying to fit into a world she doesn’t understand or particularly like. It’s very well done.
I certainly winced more than once when reading The Hopefuls, and that’s why I can recommend it so wholeheartedly (though, let me say in defense of the city I called home for so long that there is a lot to love about it that isn’t portrayed in this novel!) These characters are far from perfect. They make bad decisions. They are horrible to each other. But you can’t help but root for Beth, to hope that she finds belonging in her marriage, and in the city she wants to call home.
Other books by Jennifer Close: