When I snagged an advance copy of Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls at BEA this year, I wasn’t sure that a political novel—albeit a funny one—was going to be high on my summer reading list. So much of this year’s political news already seems stranger than fiction, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to immerse myself in more political shenanigans. But given Close’s connection to Chicago as a North Shore native, I tried the first few pages out of curiosity and found myself quickly hooked.
The Hopefuls is the story of Beth Kennedy, who is uprooted from a life she loves in NYC for her husband Matt’s job with the Obama administration in a city she despises: Washington, DC. The Kennedys soon meet power couple Jimmy and Ash Dillon and find themselves enamored with their Texan charm and political aspirations. What results is a much lighter, funnier version of House of Cards—imagine the jealousy and ambition of the Underwoods married with the humor of a sitcom like New Girl with its focus on friendships and playing at adulthood.
I recently spoke with Close about the upcoming presidential election, what she misses most about Chicago, and the stigma surrounding the “chick-lit” label. For our Chicago-area readers, Close will be at The Book Stall in Winnetka on Thursday, July 28th at 6:30 pm.
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Lauren Stacks: The Hopefuls is about many things, but broadly, it’s a book about the American political system. Since it’s an election year, how do you hope this book will add to—or enhance—the political conversations taking place?
Jennifer Close: The part of the election process that’s always fascinated me is the idea of charisma, which plays a huge part in The Hopefuls. It’s so interesting (and a little scary) to see how influenced voters are by the amount of charm that a candidate has. I think it’s important for all of us to examine why we’re drawn to certain candidates and to make sure that we’re focused on the issues that matter and less on the political theater. If this book gets people talking about that, I’d be thrilled.
Lauren Stacks: All three of your novels seem to be stories about growing up, ambition, and marriage. What is it about the twenty-something young adult stage of life that is so intriguing to you?
Jennifer Close: It’s such an exciting and confusing time of life! There’s so much possibility and so many choices to make which is equal parts thrilling and terrifying. I think it’s really fun to write about characters who may be seen as adults by those around them, but who still feel unsure and young as they try to make their way in the world.
Lauren Stacks: In 2011, your debut novel-in-stories, Girls in White Dresses, was mentioned in an EW article about non-‘chick-lit’ female authors. In your experience have you found that a ‘chick-lit’ stigma is still a thing 5 years later in today’s literary landscape?
Jennifer Close: It’s definitely still a term that comes up, but I think it’s less prevalent…or maybe I just don’t notice it as much anymore! My problem with the term ‘chick-lit’ has always been that I think most people use it in a derogatory way. I try to remember that I can’t control how other people label my books once they’re out in the world and that my time is better spent producing the best quality of writing that I can.
Lauren Stacks: After a move from New York City, The Hopefuls main character Beth is homesick and hating on her new city, Washington, DC. You’ve moved several times in your life, but I’m wondering what things you missed the most about Chicago when you moved away?
Jennifer Close: There’s so much that I miss about Chicago! Summers in Chicago are so fun—the street fairs, the Cubs games, the pleasant weather. (DC can be unbearably hot!) Chicago is also a great food city, and I miss (among other things) Lou Malnati’s pizza. But mostly, I miss how friendly the people are.
Lauren Stacks: What are the writerly lessons you most want to instill in your students at George Washington University this upcoming semester?
Jennifer Close: This might sound boring, but I hope that my students finish my class understanding that writing takes work and discipline. When I was younger, I thought that authors just sat down and had books flow out of them, never struggling over anything. I didn’t know all of the revision and reworking and horrible drafts that came before the finished product and so when I’d get stuck or frustrated while working on a story, it made me doubt that I was meant to be a writer. But writing is like anything else—the more you practice and experiment, the better you become. If you want to be a writer, you have to be willing to commit to it and work through the rough spots. We spend a lot of time in my class discussing this and the other challenges of writing. I also emphasize (almost every class) how important it is to make a writing schedule and stick to it. I’m sure they get sick of me saying that over and over, but it’s so important!
Lauren Stacks: Halfway through The Hopefuls Beth becomes terrified by the prospect of leaving D.C. during the 2012 election. With the publication of your third book and the end of Obama’s time in office, what’s next for you and your husband? Will you stay in D.C.?
Jennifer Close: This is everyone’s favorite question for me lately! The honest answer is that we just don’t know. My husband is still at the White House and plans to stay there through the end of the administration, so we have some more time here. I never thought we’d be in DC as long as we have and (to my surprise) I’ve grown to really like the city, so I’m just going to enjoy the next few months and we’ll see what the future brings!
FICTION – POLITICS
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Published July 19, 2016