cover image The Hopefuls

The Hopefuls

Jennifer Close. Knopf, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-87561-2

In Close’s (Girls in White Dresses) uneven fourth novel, writer Beth Kelly reluctantly leaves New York City to move to Washington, D.C., due to her husband, Matt, and his promising job in politics. He hopes to run for office one day, having been groomed for glory since childhood by his overbearing mother, Babs. Unfortunately, though he has the drive, Matt lacks the charm and charisma that his handsome friend Jimmy Dillon has in excess. With jealousy and admiration, Matt watches Jimmy fulfill his ambitions with ease. In the meantime, cosmopolitan Beth forges an unlikely friendship with Jimmy’s unrefined but sweet wife, Ash. Though Close’s novel is initially snappy and engaging, it becomes a slog once Beth follows Matt to Texas, where he begins work on Jimmy’s local campaign. Unemployed Beth endures endless days of monotony and repetitive election talk, growing apart from Matt and Ash as Ash turns maliciously gossipy and Matt irritably begins to shut her out. The formerly tight foursome begin to get on one another’s nerves, although Beth starts to think of Jimmy as more than a pal. The novel’s strengths lie in documenting how stress changes people, the work that marriage requires, and the importance of having a passion of one’s own. A welcome tension returns to the story as an inevitably fruitless election night looms, but not enough to recover the lost momentum of the book’s tedious middle pages. (July)