The Hopefuls isn’t groundbreaking, breathtaking or earth shattering. It’s not complex or literary, nor is it twisty or chilling.
That being said, here’s what it is: an endearing, meandering, laugh-out-loud funny novel that follows a young couple (Beth and Matt), their new best friends (Jimmy and Ash) and another satellite couple (Colleen and Bruce) over the course of a few years of their lives. It’s set in the political world of the Obama administration and takes the reader along as Matt and Jimmy follow their own political ambitions, spouses trailing in their wake.
Beth is the narrator of the story, her voice as chatty and confidential as a good friend – a super-funny, honest and observant friend who doesn’t hold back. Beth and Matt married young; he’s as driven as she is chill. She’s a talented writer in search of her muse as well as a good job. Amiable and supportive, when Matt is offered a job managing Jimmy’s first campaign in Texas, Beth quits her job writing for a local online site and follows him to Houston.
Author Jennifer Close has a knack for the aside – observations, little afterthoughts or comeback comments that make Beth so likeable. Sure the comeback is often said to herself, but that’s Beth: kind, easy-going, sharp but not cruel. Close’s writing reads easily, if that makes sense. It’s straightforward. Sometimes I don’t want or need a lot of flowery descriptions or educational tangents!
Beth and Matt met Jimmy and Ash in DC and immediately became fast friends, spending all their time together. Jimmy’s the rising star and Ash looks good by his side. Beth and Ash immediately click and are true friends, but once they get to Houston, living together in a huge house, Ash starts to revert to her Texan roots leaving Beth on shaky ground. And then there’s her husband who she’s losing to the campaign and his own self-doubts. There’s a little bit of marital and BFF strife in The Hopefuls, but the book never gets too heavy. Author Close keeps the narrative relaxed, even the tough parts.
Some of the funniest moments come when Beth and Matt visit his family. Babs is the matriarch (Katherine Hepburn type in my mind), and Matt is her favorite child. The family makes me think of the Kennedys, all athletic and competitive. When they sit down to dinner instead of a kid’s table off to the side, Babs makes all the in-laws sit apart from her blood relatives. Of course Beth and her fellow outcasts are actually okay with the set-up, it’s a respite from the relentlessness of the Family.
Halfway through I started to wonder, is there a plot? Is it more than just the story of the two couples and the campaign and all the little things that make up life? And then I thought, who cares? I’m invested, I like these people, the story is moving forward and Beth makes me LOL every few pages.
In other words The Hopefuls is just what I needed, a perfect distraction and not-too-sweet bonbon of a book. Are you hungry for some hope?