Book Club: The Hopefuls
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
When I was first recommended this book, I thought that this book was written for me! A story about Washington, DC transplants who started off working on a political campaign trail? That’s the story of my life! I knew I had to read it and review it.
When Beth arrives in Washington, D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn't work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunch, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy's star rises higher and higher, their friendship--and Beth's relationship with Matt--is threatened by jealousy, competition and rumors.
Related post: Book Club: The Nest
Beth follows her husband Matt to DC after he accepts a job at the White House in 2009 after working on President Obama’s victorious 2008 campaign. She chronicles how different life is in DC while Matt’s ambitious nature finds itself wanting when he realizes there is little to no mobility for him in his position. His good friend decides to run for office and the couple moves to Texas to run the campaign.
Full disclosure: I actually worked on the Obama campaign in 2012 so reading about OFA alumni was actually SO much fun for me to read. If you are not political though, don’t worry - there’s still something that’s possibly here for you. Just disclosing my background a bit so I can explain how I know about the accuracy of this book regarding DC life, campaign life, and even White House staff life.
So many references in DC that Beth makes made me laugh and then put the book down because it was just too real. There was once scene she described at a dinner party where everyone went around stating their level of security clearance by way of introduction and yup, I’ve been at an event like that (and believe me, it’s obnoxious). DC gets a bad rap for sure, though it’s not completely unearned. Yes, people care way too much about their jobs and one of the first things people will ask you when getting to know you is “So, where do you work.” What they’re really asking is “Who do you work for and if he’s important, how can I leverage my relationship with you to get ahead.” (Can you tell I’ve lived in DC for so long?") As someone who’s had an internship at the White House, I can safely say that people here can be really status-obsessed. I’m honestly the kind of person who’s always believed that one should work to live not live to work but I’m most definitely in the minority who believes that here. It’s not that I’m not ambitious, I’m just a firm believer that as much as I love working and getting ahead, my job is not what defines me, but I digress.
Related post: Book Club: Everything I Never Told You
There are great things about DC too that Beth doesn’t seem to talk about at all. This area is unique in many ways - chance encounters with political figures still leave me a little starstruck. Inaugurations can be a magical time in DC, especially when it's a candidate you supported.
In any case, I completely sympathized with Beth when she made her funny (but accurate) complaints about living in a big city that feels like a small town at times. She grows close to the Dillons - Jimmy Dillon, a Texas native who’s charisma paves the way for Matt in some ways, and his fun-loving Texas-belle wife, Ashleigh. When Jimmy decides to run for a political office in Texas, he asks Matt to be his campaign manager and the couples all move back to the Lone Star state. This is when the book starts to get more dramatic and less action-packed.
I really wanted to like this book due to its promising start but… it fell short to me. I just hated how passive Beth was. She constantly let things happen to her and let her relationship fall apart without ever really trying to change her situation in any way. She hated being in DC and after a while, her complaints got annoying. She chose to move to DC to support her husband. While I can understand how venting can be helpful, doing absolutely nothing except complaining gets old quickly.
I also was annoyed at how anticlimactic the book turned out to be. It kept hinting at a potential relationship shift between Jimmy and Beth as her marriage with Matt starts to sour. And don’t get me started on Matt and how selfish he ends up becoming. For all the complaints I have with Beth, I started off feeling I had more in common with Matt and ended up hating him. I felt that the resolution of the book (a “happy” ending of sorts for Beth and Matt) was rather unearned and it didn’t quite settle with me.
All in all I gave this book 3 stars. I didn’t hate it because if I have strong opinions about any character, I always chalk it up to good writing. Unfortunately, my strong opinions are negative feelings towards characters so I docked two stars.