There are many layers of meaning embedded in Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls.
The setting is Washington D.C. and the novel begins at the start of Obama's first campaign to office; hopefuls descend onto the capital from across the nation. They have one thing in common: they are hopeful about the future. In the next four years, they are determined to accelerate their career in politics and perhaps change the world while doing so.
The central characters in The Hopefuls are Beth and her husband Matt. Matt has recently decided to pursue his love of politics much to Beth's chagrin. But, like a dutiful wife, she follows her husband to the city that is home to the powerful and those wishing to be.
"So, yeah, Matt told me about his aspirations right after we met. But my high school boyfriend wanted to be a rapper, and turned out to be an accountant, so I don't think I can be blamed for not taking it all too seriously."
Initially, Beth hates it there. Despite all the dinner parties and social life, she feels like an outsider. When people realize that she doesn’t even work in politics, they just smile and turn away. Conversations centre around political acronyms and Blackberries are a side plate at every dinner function.
Not long after they arrive Beth and Matt befriend another couple, Jimmy and Ashleigh. Jimmy is a White House staffer. For the first time, Beth feels hopeful of her time in Washington. She really enjoys her budding friendship with Ashleigh. With so much seemingly in common, it doesn’t take long for the couples to become inseparable.
But, things are never what they seem in Washington. True friendships are questioned based on current political agendas. The rise to political success is not always a smooth one. With all the competition in securing the top seats, what you see on the surface may not be the reality. Hobnobbing with power brokers, backstabbing friends and spreading rumours about colleagues, are behaviours that are ultimately bound to ensue.
"And I asked myself the same thing about Matt and Jimmy -- Jimmy introduced Matt to people, made him more social, more fun. And Matt grounded Jimmy, gave him an air of gravitas. But that wasn't why they were friends, was it? Or at least, that wasn't the only reason. I watched them that day, Jimmy laughing loudly, smacking Matt on the back, my stomach twisting just a little."
Then there is underlying theme of hopeful with a lens aimed towards the Kellys themselves. The stress of Capitol Hill gets to Matt and Beth. With Matt increasingly preoccupied with running Jimmy’s campaign, and Beth having no particular passion or work to pursue, it’s not surprising that she begins to feel neglected. This puts a strain on their marriage and the novel once again encourages us to be hopeful that they'll manage to pull through.
There were some points of insight. While troubles in a relationship build up over time, we can all relate to that pivotal moment when something sets you off in anger and most often it's something very trivial. In The Hopefuls, it all comes down to a sandwich. The incident revolves around a scene when they are on the campaign route, and stuck in a hotel. None of them have eaten all morning. Matt leaves the hotel at one point and returns an hour later with a sandwich for himself, completely oblivious to the fact that his wife may be hungry too, and too preoccupied to even think of asking if she may want one.
As a writer, I was also drawn to the chat the Jennifer has with Jimmy about writing. He's giving her hope to write, and not give up on her dreams.
"But that's not how I know you are a good writer...It's because you are so observant...You're always watching people and you notice these little things about them -- what makes them tick, what they really want, what they're afraid of. You can sum up anyone in two lines. Most people are too busy worrying about themselves, but you're always paying attention to everything around you."
While Jennifer Close does a great job in immersing us in the culture of Capitol Hill – the restaurants, the rivalry, the pretentiousness – the novel takes a meandering journey to get to its destination. Arguably, the destination is a metaphor for the corridors of power -- it is shrouded in mystery, things are never what they seem, obfuscation is a virtue, and like Washington itself, there is gridlock. Apart from the everyday recounting of events, and character plots that embody the polite veneer of a Norman Rockwell America, there's a dearth of gravitas. You are kept waiting, and waiting, for the tensions to rise and things to blow up in your face, but the wait is incredibly slow -- just like Capitol Hill where the disillusion with politicians amongst Americans is at a zenith. But, like the protagonists, you are hopeful that it will get better and that fact alone accompanied with Jennifer Close's approachable writing style makes it a great beach read.
Books & Wine Pairing: Jennifer Close's The Hopefuls is a light, refreshing read about "the hopefuls" who are on the Obama campaign trail in Washington. This timely novel based on the culture of power and politics in America's capital pairs perfectly with a wonderfully approachable Pinot Grigio which we think is a timely pairing for the hot summer months. Summer's were made for Pinot Grigio and this one by Santa Margherita, is deliciously crisp with it's green apple, peach and citrus notes. It matches perfectly with seafood, grilled chicken or on its own while laying on a hammock and enjoying The Hopefuls. It's one of LCBO's Vintage Collection and a consistently top seller.
(Available at LCBO | $18.95 per 750 ml bottle).
For more wine pairings visit sukasastyle.com
The Hopefuls is published by Doubleday Canada.
Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog: thinkblink.ca/blog, as well as a lifestyle blog: sukasastyle.com T: @SukasaStyle)