It might be a double-edged sword, Jennifer Close says, that her fourth novel, The Hopefuls (Knopf, July), is being published the same week that the Republicans in Cleveland, and the Democrats in Philadelphia the following week, are convening to select their presidential nominees. “I just hope people won’t be so sick of politics that they won’t want to read it,” she says, only half-joking. “But a friend of mine told me that she thinks it’ll be nice for readers to take a break from real politicians and spend some time with fake ones.”
The Hopefuls is the story of a couple, Matt and Beth, who move to Washington, D.C., in 2008 after Matt, who worked for the Obama campaign, is hired to work in the Obama administration. Everybody Beth meets is obsessed with politics and jockeying for favor with the newly elected president—who even makes two cameo appearances, as do two of Chicago’s most famous residents: Oprah Winfrey (who has since moved to California) and Rahm Emanuel (first as Obama’s chief-of-staff, then as the city’s mayor). There are even two short but important scenes set at Chicago landmarks familiar to booksellers: Grant Park on election night in 2008 and McCormick Place on election night in 2012.
Close says that, like Matt, her own husband worked for the Obama campaign, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C., in 2010 when he was hired by the Obama administration. He still works for Obama, as deputy director of the president’s advance team, and provided his expertise to her book. Close says that she wanted to write about the impact upon the spouse of a presidential campaign worker’s aspirations, but denies that she modeled Beth upon herself—except for Beth’s rant in the opening chapter about how much she hates Washington. Beth’s complaints about Washington’s “strangeness” do mirror Close’s initial reaction, she admits, but, she adds, she quickly adapted after finding her tribe: Close, who now teaches creative writing at George Washington University, worked that first year as a bookseller at Politics & Prose Bookstore.
Asked if her husband will use his proximity to Obama to obtain a blurb from him, or at least get POTUS to read it, Close laughs. “My husband is a good publicist,” she says, “but I don’t know if he would flip Obama a book on the rope line.”
Close appears at PRH’s Library Marketing Breakfast today and will sign in-booth (2433) at 3 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.