The Smart One- Jennifer Close

The Smart One is told in alternating points of view from four women in the Coffey family.  Weezy is the matriarch, whose empty nest doesn’t stay empty and who is a bit of a control freak.  Martha is Weezy’s oldest daughter. She is socially inept, works a dead end job at J. Crew, lives at home with her parents, is very into her weekly therapy sessions, and seems hopelessly incapable of ever becoming independent.  Claire, Weezy’s younger daughter, is the “normal” one, but has just broken off her engagement and finds she can’t make ends meet in New York City on her own.  She moves back home, but her fierce independent streak clashes with her mother’s need to control everything.  Finally, we have Cleo, the girlfriend of Weezy’s youngest child, Max.  Cleo is a beautiful young college student who doesn’t ever feel like she fits in anywhere she goes and can’t seem to follow societal conventions or relationship rules.  Cleo and Max move back in with Weezy, too, after they graduate from college.  This is an interesting look at family dynamics when adult children return to their parents’ home and at the lives of four women at personal crossroads in their lives.

What I liked: I picked up this book at the Strand when I was in New York visiting my sister.  I was eager to read more of Jennifer Close’s work after finishing Girls in White Dresses, which felt like a fresh, smart take on chick lit.  I was equally impressed with Close’s writing in this book.  I like her focus on the ordinary everyday events in life and I appreciate her ability to create characters who felt real and distinct.  Close also has a real understanding of relationship dynamics and that is very evident her in a story about the complexity of family relationships.  I also liked that this book focused on adults returning home, as that experience is becoming especially common these days.  I haven’t had to move back home, but I imagine that I would feel as frustrated as Claire did at the loss of independence.

What I felt meh about: While I appreciated that the characters in this book felt realistic and flawed, sometimes they felt too difficult.  It got to be a bit grating at times to read about Weezy constantly underestimating her children and her husband and trying to run everyone’s lives or about Martha complaining about everything and never taking control of her own life.  This also felt like a very WASPy, upper middle class story, which isn’t a flaw exactly, it just made the story less appealing to me.  Finally, some of the characters’ attitudes towards things like homosexuality, premarital sex, cohabitation, and unplanned pregnancy seemed out-of-place and old-fashioned for the characters that held the beliefs.  For example, Cleo is 21 and embarrassed about living with her boyfriend during college because that’s just not a thing girls her age do.  Moving in with a significant other during college was fairly common for people I knew when I went to college 10 years prior to the publication of this book, so that attitude seemed particularly strange.

All in all: While this book was not a personal favorite, I have no intentions of writing off Jennifer Close.  I really enjoy her writing and her sharp observations of people and personal relationships.  There is a lot of potential in her writing and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

 

 

Winter Mini-Reviews 3: Chick Lit and a Series Finale

I am trying to wrap up my 2014 reviews by posting some mini-reviews for things I neglected to review in full.  This is the post for everything else that didn’t fit into the two previous posts, so I have a couple of chick lit titles and a fantasy series finale.

 

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

Girls in White Dresses tells the interconnected stories of a group of friends in their 20s, post-college, living in New York City.  It follow their various journeys through early adulthood– romantic relationships, starting out in a career, changing careers, never quite finding that real job you thought you’d have post-college, weddings of friends, friends having children, bad mothers-in-law, family stuff, etc.

What I liked: The stories were sharp and funny and all the stories and characters in this book felt familiar to me.  This book really captures what it is like to be in your 20s in the 2000s/2010s (as a white middle class college graduate anyways).  It was refreshing to get a more holistic view of these girls’ lives and I especially loved seeing them flounder in the area of career as that was the biggest struggle for me in my 20s.
What I felt meh about: I had some expectations coming into this book– the blurb made it sounds like it had a more cohesive plot structure, so I was initially bored and struggled to get into it.  Once I let go of my expectations and got further into the book, it totally clicked for me and I was sad to see it end.
All in all: I highly recommend this book, especially if you liked The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.  I want to reread it some time and I have bought another book by this author since this one resonated so well with me.

 

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Lauren and Ryan have been married for about five years and have reached a breaking point in their relationship.  They’re not really sure they love each other any more.  So they decide to take a one year hiatus from their relationship and reevaluate after that break.  This sets Lauren on a journey of self-discovery, as she tries to figure out how to fix her marriage and whether she even wants to fix it in the first place.

What I liked: I loved Lauren’s family.  She is very close to her mother and two siblings and I loved to see the exploration of adult familial relationships along side the exploration of the meaning of love and marriage.  Lauren learns that love and marriage and romance mean different things to different people and has to decide what it means for her.
What I felt meh about: I wasn’t keen on the ending– it was just a little too tidy for my preferences.
All in all: This is smart chick lit that is easy and fun to read.  Loved it and highly recommend it.

 

 

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

This is the final installment in The Magicians Trilogy.  I read the other two books almost three years ago so coming to this one after a long distance was a bit tough.  Quentin has been kicked out of Fillory and is trying to figure out what to do next.  Mostly he wants to save Alice (who got turned into a nifkin way back in the first book).  Meanwhile, in Fillory the world is ending.  Quentin ends up landing a job in a magical heist.  This heist gives him some tools to help in saving Alice, and maybe even Fillory.

What I liked: I like Grossman’s writing– he’s always smart and funny and clearly loves books as homages to authors and books abound in his books.  I am glad to see an ending to this story, too, and to see how much all the characters have changed over the years.
What I felt meh about: This book was all over the place and encompassed so much, that it was really disjointed for me.
All in all: I’m happy I finished the trilogy, but this was my least favorite of the series.