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The Smart One
Cover of The Smart One
The Smart One
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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.
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.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One To be a manager at J.Crew, you had to be organized. That was what Martha always told people. She had, after all, risen to the position of manager faster than any other person at this particular branch. (Well, she was pretty sure of that. Someone had told her that once, and it seemed true.)
     
     
    “You have to be willing to fold clothes all day if that’s what needs to be done,” she always said. “People don’t want to scrounge around through a messy pile of pants to find the right size.”
     
    Martha was being a little modest when she told people this. You did have to be organized, that was true. But you also had to have the right work ethic, and Martha knew she had it. Some of these people treated this job like it was nothing, like the store was lucky to have them. Well, Martha was a registered nurse who had graduated at the top of her class, and she still worked harder than everyone else. She wasn’t too good to take the extra time to help a pear—shaped girl find the right kind of pants. If her job was to steer that pear of a girl away from skinny cords and point her in the direction of some wide—leg chinos, then that was what she was going to do.
     
    The store was just a ten—minute drive from her parents’ house, which was why Martha decided to apply there in the first place. She’d never worked in retail before, but she figured it couldn’t be that hard, and
    so she dropped off applications at Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and Anthropologie. She was turned down almost everywhere.
     
    “But I went to college,” Martha would say, when the managers asked her about previous retail jobs.
     
    Then they would shake their heads no and apologize. “I’m sorry,” they’d say. “We really need someone that has prior experience.”
     
    It was a godsend, really, that the manager at J.Crew was someone that Martha had gone to high school with. They weren’t exactly friends, but Margaret Crawford had sat next to Martha for years in school, and they’d had a sort of friendly alliance, since alphabetically they were always stuck together.
     
    Margaret, it turned out, was pregnant. She told Martha that she was going to be cutting back on her hours and between that and all the college kids leaving to go back to school, they really needed help.
     
    “You’re pregnant?” Martha asked. She tried not to sound shocked, but she was. Margaret looked just a little tubby all around, but not pregnant. Martha noticed a tiny diamond ring on her left hand.
     
    “Yep,” Margaret said. She smiled and rubbed her bloated tummy. “Thirteen weeks. Can’t you tell?”
     
    “Oh, yeah,” Martha said. “Now that you mention it, I can.”
     
    “So why do you want to work here anyway?” Margaret said as she read Martha’s résumé. “I thought you were nursing. Career change?”
     
    “No, not really. I was just in a job that wasn’t a good fit and I thought I’d take a break from it for a while. From nursing, I mean. You know.” Martha prayed that Margaret wouldn’t ask her what she’d been doing in the past year since she stopped nursing.
     
    Margaret wasn’t a very pretty girl. She was average height and a little hefty, with unremarkable brown hair and a splotchy complexion. She was the sort of person who was just average at everything. She’d been in all mid—level classes in high school, had played volleyball for one year on the B...
About the Author-
  • Jennifer Close is the best-selling author of Girls in White Dresses. Born and raised on the North Shore of Chicago, she is a graduate of Boston College and received her MFA in fiction writing from the New School in 2005. She worked in New York in magazines for many years. She now lives in Washington, DC, and teaches creative writing at George Washington University.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 4, 2013
    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. Agent: Sam Hiyate, the Rights Factory.

  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2013
    Close, whose first novel (Girls in White Dresses, 2011) romped with recent college grads newly on their own, focuses here on two sisters on the cusp of 30, both torn between independent womanhood and lingering dependence on parents. Claire Coffey has no investment in her nondescript (as in never described) job at an unnamed nonprofit, no social life now that her engagement has been broken by mutual consent, and a negative cash flow now that her ex-fiance has moved out of their shared Manhattan apartment. The only way she sees out of her debt is to move back in with her parents in Philadelphia: supermaternal Weezy and slightly removed Will (Close's men never rise above sketches). Claire's sister Martha, older by less than a year, is already there. She has lived at home and seen an increasingly frustrated therapist ever since having a breakdown during her first job as a certified nurse years ago. Soon, Claire has a dull temp job and a guy to hook up with: her hottie crush in high school, who conveniently just got dumped by his fiancee and is living with his parents too. An insecure underachiever, Claire is the typical cute, witty heroine readers know will land on her feet. But less attractive, i.e. slightly overweight, Martha, who has always been needy and socially off-kilter, steals the novel. After years managing a J.Crew, she has taken a first step back toward nursing with a job as an elderly man's caregiver, but whether she'll take a second step remains questionable. The friction between the sisters is palpable and real. Less believable is the subplot concerning younger brother Max, who moves home with his gorgeous, sensitive but very pregnant college girlfriend, Cleo; Close evades explaining why they decide to have the baby. Nothing unexpected happens, but the novel sings in the small moments when its women express uncomfortable truths, undercurrents of sibling resentment and parental disappointment, which usually remain unspoken. An unassuming but far from vacuous domestic comedy, perfect for the beach or a long plane trip.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2012

    Close's best-selling debut, Girls in White Dresses--about three young women dealing with job stress and uncertain love while everyone else is getting married--sounded suspiciously like a made-for-TV movie but was something else entirely. Once again, Close sets out to deal smartly with domestic crisis. Weezy and Will Coffey always tried to be the best of parents, so why is thin-skinned Martha back home in her childhood bedroom after a career crisis, Claire locked in her apartment after ditching her fiance, and college senior Max in real girl trouble? From an author tracking upward.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    April 1, 2013
    After watching her engagement fall apart, her job performance tank, and her credit-card balance rise into the stratosphere, Claire Coffey decides it's time to move back home. An old romantic flame even resurfaces, though Claire believes that being home for any meaningful length of time forces a regression to teenage behavior. While Claire, older sister Martha, younger brother Max, and the rest of the Coffey family try to navigate the logistics of having adult children return to the previously empty nest, they realize that no right answers can be found in any parenting manual. The Smart One focuses on the intersections of self-discovery, independence, and reliance in the modern family, all enlivened by Close's signature wit and warmth. Close does an admirable job of equally voicing the Coffey children, straining to reevaluate their priorities under a shared roof, and the Coffey parents, aching to provide guidance without wanting to seem heavy-handed. A touchingly tender, emotionally honest novel about shifting priorities and the nontraditional career paths so many find themselves on, this will appeal to fans of Jennifer Weiner and Laura Dave.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • Robin Micheli, People "As in her previous novel Girls in White Dresses, Close nails the yearning, confusion, fear and bravado that characterize contemporary young adulthood. . . . Wit and vibrant characters make The Smart One an engaging exploration of a thoroughly modern family dynamic."
  • Marisa Atkinson and Casey Peterson, Book Riot "The Smart One has such authentic, multifaceted characters. . . . Close does a great job of creating these protagonists. They had depth, they were distinct from each other, and their motivations were believable. . . . [Close] is a strong writer, and other people will connect with the well-drawn protagonists of this novel."
  • Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly "If you're looking for the literary equivalent of HBO's Girls, then check out Jennifer Close's debut novel, Girls in White Dresses, which charts the travails of flailing twentysomethings. Her follow-up, The Smart One, feels the way Girls could circa season 6, when 'almost getting it kind of together' ceases to be cute. . . . This bighearted novel examines a generation of nonstarters with a mix of empathy and Close's signature deadpan, pathos-driven humor."
  • Megan Angelo, Glamour "I want to be friends with all of the narrators of Jennifer Close's addictive novel."
  • Stephanie Turza, Booklist "While Claire, older sister Martha, younger brother Max, and the rest of the Coffey family try to navigate the logistics of having adult children return to the previously empty next, they realize that no right answers can be found in any parenting manual. The Smart One focuses on the intersections of self-discovery, independence, and reliance in the modern family, all enlivened by Close's signature wit and warmth. Close does an admirable job of equally voicing the Coffey children, straining to reevaluate their priorities under a shared roof, and the Coffey parents, aching to provide guidance without wanting to seem heavy-handed. A touchingly tender, emotionally honest novel about shifting priorities and the nontraditional career paths so many find themselves on."
  • Kirkus "Close, whose first novel (Girls in White Dresses, 2011) romped with recent college grads newly on their own, focuses here on two sisters on the cusp of 30, both torn between independent womanhood and lingering dependence on parents. . . . Martha, who has always been needy and socially off-kilter, steals the novel . . . The friction between the sisters is palpable and real. . . . The novel sings in the small moments when its women express uncomfortable truths, undercurrents of sibling resentment and parental disappointment, which usually remain unspoken. . . . Perfect for the beach or a long plane trip."
  • Kate Christensen, author of The Astral "The Smart One is emotionally engaging and thoughtful; like Anne Tyler, Close goes straight into the heart of a group of people to show all its flawed, complicated members clearly and deftly and totally without judgment. There is not one dull moment--Close is a subtle and incisive writer who gets better with each new book."
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