Politics is a dangerous and ruthless game. No one is to be completely trusted, because absolutely everyone is out to pursue their own goals and aspirations no matter the cost. At least this is how Jennifer Close paints the picture in her new book The Hopefuls, where if politics is a blood-lust sport, Washington D.C. is the Colosseum.
Close is an expert of sorts regarding the inner workings of Washington. She lives there, teaches at George Washington University and has undoubtedly seen first-hand much of what she describes in The Hopefuls. Parts of the novel are interlaced with quotes of famous political and historical figures about what Washington D.C. is really like.
These leave the impression that underneath everything is quite the cesspool, filled with unscrupulous men and women, many of them too young, too irresponsible and too blind to understand the consequences of their actions, who will do anything for a high-powered government job. A quote from President Obama that Close includes in the book is particularly revealing and in sync with this: “What Washington needs is adult supervision”.
The main characters in The Hopefuls, Matt and Beth, are a twenty-something couple newly arrived in D.C. from New York for the benefit of Matt’s career. He has high political aspirations but no clear idea of how to fulfill them. Beth hates the city as soon as she sets foot in it, despises the traffic, the heat, the constant talk about politics, and the annoying acronyms that endlessly confuse her. But Matt is happy, and she is nothing if not willing to tough it out for his sake, putting her own career on hold after being fired from a long-time job at Vanity Fair.
At a party, they seem to at last get lucky in the friends department. They meet handsome White House staffer Jimmy Dillon and his equally attractive wife Ash. At once Matt and Beth are drawn into the circle of their Texan charm, and they quickly become a foursome when they realize they have a lot in common.
However, when Jimmy’s political ambitions seem to materialize easily while Matt’s star refuses to rise, the relationship between the two men becomes strained. When Matt agrees to take on the job as Jimmy’s campaign manager for a prominent government job in Texas, the tension begins to slowly extend to Beth and Ashley ultimately affecting their friendship.
Close’s narrative captivates the reader slowly with her description of a well-plotted campaign trail but the story becomes suspenseful as well. We know that growing tensions will eventually unravel the two couples, particularly when Beth and Matt move to Texas and into the Dillon’s house so Matt can work closely with Jimmy and his campaign. Initially it’s a good plan, the prospect of being in such close quarters all the time seems a treat. They are such good friends after all.
Close doesn’t just present a story of youthful ambition. She cleverly dissects relationships between couples and friends alike, and how misguided goals can destroy the very thing that should matter the most. Because it isn’t only Beth and Matt’s marriage that begins to unravel and crack in the face of a blind dash to a coveted political seat. Jimmy and Ash’s also begins to tear at the seams, revealing that their relationship may not seem as perfect as they have always made it out to be. It isn’t until a terribly misguided choice threatens to destroy their marriage, that Matt and Beth begin to realize that it may be too late to recover what they’ve lost.
The Hopefuls is a fantastic and well-written insight into how political schemes and agendas are played out in Washington behind closed doors and black-tie parties. Close nails it right on the head, laying it out in the open and daring us to see that in the end, politics is all smoke and mirrors. You never know who anyone truly is, which of the many faces is the real one. But most of all, we come to the same realization as Matt and Beth: in politics, there is no space for such a thing as honesty and real friendship.
Author’s note: This review was based on an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) provided by Netgalley and the publisher.