Jennifer Close was an editor at Conde Nast when her husband moved from New York to Washington to work on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. After following her husband and moving to DC, she wrote her observations about the city in her book, “The Hopefuls.”
The protagonist, Beth is a magazine journalist in New York who is grappling with the evolving field when her young, idealistic husband, Matt decides to quit his job as an attorney and move to DC to make it into politics. Beth hates DC: the traffic, the humidity, and the unlimited competition and ambition of the residents in the city.
Beth and Matt’s lives change when they cross paths with ambitious White House staffer Jimmy, and his wife, Ashleigh, a Southern belle from Texas who Beth bonds with. The couples do everything together, and when Jimmy decides to run for the Texas Railroad Commission and hires Matt to run his campaign, the couples move and live together in Texas.
Close captures the gruesome nature of working on a campaign. Both marriages experience hardships; Beth and Matt’s marriage especially suffer from a lack of intimacy and connection once her husband becomes obsessed with success and winning. Attaining success is a rough and sometimes painful journey, one that requires sacrifice, sometimes unhealthy habits and takes a toll on a person’s personal life. Close describes this well through the eyes of Beth, who takes a back seat in her own life to let Matt drive the wheel in his journey.
Anyone who has experience in politics or living in DC will relate well to these couples’ narratives. However, Beth is not an extraordinary character: She is passive and does not do much to change how unhappy she is in her circumstances, failing to communicate well with Matt, her impossible-to-please mother-in-law or even her friend, Ashleigh.
However, the book’s strength is its accuracy in depicting Washington. “The Hopefuls” refers to the thousands of college graduates or young people like Matt and Jimmy who move to the city to “change the world.” Young, idealistic, and of course, “hopeful,” they make a move to find their pot of gold, only to realize the pot can be full of cynicism, greed, power and endless competition.
The book is funny, the prose is simple enough to follow and is a nice cozy read by the fire this winter. What is interesting enough after this recent presidential election is to see whether Washington will remain a city full of ambitious doers. We can only hope.
Does “The Hopefuls” sound interesting to you? Comment below or tweet @issabasco.