With her best-selling debut, Girls in White Dresses (An “irresistible, pitch-perfect first novel” —Marie Claire), Jennifer Close captured friendship in those what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life years of early adulthood. Now, with her sparkling new novel of parenthood and sibling rivalry, Close turns her gimlet eye to the only thing messier than friendship: family.
Weezy Coffey’s parents had always told her she was the smart one, while her sister was the pretty one. “Maureen will marry well,” their mother said, but instead it was Weezy who married well, to a kind man and good father. Weezy often wonders if she did this on purpose—thwarting expectations just to prove her parents wrong.
But now that Weezy’s own children are adults, they haven’t exactly been meeting her expectations either. Her oldest child, Martha, is thirty and living in her childhood bedroom after a spectacular career flameout. Martha now works at J.Crew, folding pants with whales embroidered on them and complaining bitterly about it. Weezy’s middle child, Claire, has broken up with her fiancé, canceled her wedding, and locked herself in her New York apartment—leaving Weezy to deal with the caterer and florist. And her youngest, Max, is dating a college classmate named Cleo, a girl so beautiful and confident she wears her swimsuit to family dinner, leaving other members of the Coffey household blushing and stammering into their plates.
As the Coffey children’s various missteps drive them back to their childhood home, Weezy suddenly finds her empty nest crowded and her children in full-scale regression. Martha is moping like a teenager, Claire is stumbling home drunk in the wee hours, and Max and Cleo are skulking around the basement, guarding a secret of their own. With radiant style and a generous spirit, The Smart One is a story about the ways in which we never really grow up, and the place where we return when things go drastically awry: home.
This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
Near the end of Close's follow-up to her bestselling Girls in White Dresses, Claire thinks, "It was almost like she was right back where she'd started, but it didn't feel that way." For the reader, though, that's exactly how it feels. After ending her engagement, Claire sinks into depression, maxing out her credit cards and finally leaving New York for Philadelphia to move back in with her parents and sister, Martha, who's still working retail after a failed nursing career. Despite the finality of the breakup, Claire's mother continues to meet with caterers and florists to plan her daughter's wedding. How this will all end is clear when we first meet Claire and Martha; Close telegraphs that the way forward is to reclaim lost ground. What's surprising is that the sisters have so little fun along the way. Martha and Claire don't seem to have a genuinely kind impulse between them, and when they do finally move on, boredom is a big motivator. There are great stories to be told about families in "boomerang," but this isn't one of them.
'Smart One' is 100% Relatable
People say that one of the reasons that Sex and the City did so well is because every woman could relate to every character. We all have a little bit of Charlotte, Samantha, Carrie, and Miranda in us, even if we don’t like to admit it. This is the exact same reason that I adored The Smart One by Jennifer Close. I could relate to each and every one of the main characters on some level, even if i didn’t want to admit it.
First we have Claire, who plunged herself into so much debt after her engagement ended that she had to move home to pay it off. While home, she reverts back to her teenage self and picks up with a high school crush who is living in his basement. Then we have Martha (age 30) simply never left the house and gave up nursing to work at J. Crew. Lastly, we have Max, a college senior who’s forced to move home with his pregnant girlfriend, Cleo, who no one knows he’s been living with. Put them all together under the same roof again and it’s like living with teenagers all over again, only much more entertaining.
You might be asking yourself how I could relate to all of these characters, so I’ll tell you. Like Claire, I moved home in my mid-20′s to save money, and like Martha, I spent a few too many years in retail. Granted, I’ve never brought home a pregnant girlfriend, but I can empathize nonetheless. And while I don’t have kids, I can absolutely see my own fantastic mother welcoming home all four of her children as adults and then wishing that we’d get it together. Luckily for her, this hasn’t happened. Yet.
The Smart One is both hilarious and heartbreaking. I desperately wanted the kids to get it together and let their parents be, but at the same time I knew that Wheezy, like many empty nesters, was glad to be needed again. There were some laugh out loud moments, like the two weeks that the fashion-modelesque Cleo spent in her bikini, and when the author compared the Boston accent to a chicken squawk (how dare she!). And then there were also some heartbreaking ones, like watching Max and Cleo find out and come to terms with being pregnant at 21 and Wheezy’s difficulty accepting her children’s ‘failures’.
By the time the book ended, I felt like I was part of the Coffey family. The author did such a great job of bringing the reader into the story that I had a vested interest in each of their successes. Anyone with siblings (especially sisters) or that is in their late 20′s-early 30′s should read this book because I can (almost) guarantee that you will relate to someone in the book. And if you don’t – it’s still a great read.
P.S. I also thought it was pretty neat that the one specific date in the entire book was July 15… and I read it on July 15.