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Bitch At Us: Jennifer Close

Chicago
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After I graduated college, I wondered how I would remain close to my sorority sisters. We had spent four years at a large Midwestern university, and afterwards, our core group scattered across the country for various journalism jobs. I was excited to tackle the real world, but bummed I might not stay in touch with some of the greatest friends I had ever made.

We decided to plan annual trips. A rotating visitation that allowed us to convene in various cities across the country: Boston, St. Louis, New York, Houston, Washington, Naples, you name it. Wherever our post-graduation jobs landed us, we would schedule a retreat, a long weekend of female-fueled debauchery and catch-ups.

My decade since college has been adventurous, fun, and filled with love and laughs—and eerily close to the exact post-college life chronicled in Jennifer Close’s “Girls in White Dresses.” I urged my sisters to read the novel. Aren’t we just like those girls? Didn’t you think Jennifer Close captured our stress and silliness of those post-college years?

I loved the book so much, and it was so close to my heart, that I felt an immediate kinship with Ms. Close. So when I heard she was publishing a new novel this summer, I got truly excited. And when I heard it was about a woman who lives in New York and moves to Washington, D.C.—an exact mirrored version of my last eight years—I was thrilled.

The Hoepfuls

Turns out, “The Hopefuls” is a delightful and fun novel about a young Manhattan couple who leave their cozy New York walkup for D.C. life and a job in the Obama administration. The relatable story is not only a glorious send-up of young D.C., it’s also a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, full of wit and brilliant observation.

Jennifer had a book signing at Politics and Prose in Washington on Wednesday, and we had a good chat about her book, her style, D.C. and New York. She’ll be at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn on Monday, and then at Bookstall in Chicago on July 28. Don’t miss the chance to meet her and get a signed copy of the new book.

Jennifer Close

You have such an amazing voice, and you just get women. Talk me through your approach to this new story.

Jennifer: It’s first person. I used to write in first person all the time, but this is the first book I’ve done in first person. It’s the story of a couple that gets married really young, and the husband has always had ambitions to run for office. It gets to be more real as he moves to D.C. and starts to work for Obama. The wife starts thinking this might not be something she wants, and it’s this story of what happens when you change your mind and become different people in a marriage. They meet another couple who’s sort of similar, and the husband also has plans to run for office, and they become really close friends with the other couple. It’s the story of both of those marriages and then the two couples together in D.C. trying to figure out what their next steps are.

What parts of your life did you draw from for this story?

Jennifer: I started writing this right when I moved to D.C., and I moved from New York, and I think I just wasn’t ready to leave New York and felt sort of out of place in D.C. So the narrator hates the city when she first gets there, and that is the thing when I first started writing this, I knew I was writing about someone who moved to D.C. and felt really out of place and was annoyed with everything. That’s probably the most autobiographical part of the story.

Other than that, when we moved here and we were meeting all these people—my husband did work on the campaign and work for the White House—when I was meeting all these people, there were a few of them that Tim would say, ‘I think he’ll run for office one day, I think he’ll run for office one day,’ and I was just kind of fascinated by that because it seems like a hard thing for a spouse to deal with, and I think I started wondering: How would I deal with that? How would a person deal with that if they were dating someone who ran for office, because you kind of have to take that into account. But it stops there because my husband does not want to run for office.

You’ve been living in D.C. for how long now?

Jennifer: Six years. And I do like it now. It’s funny; it took me a while to sort of get settled, and I think, again, I wasn’t ready to leave New York, but I’ve been here for six years, which is sort of crazy because I never thought we would stay here that long.

So what are some of the things you love about D.C.?

Jennifer: We moved here, and our apartment is maybe three times as big as where we were living [in New York]. There’s a washer and dryer. It’s a little easier. It’s a smaller town. But the tradeoff is so many things like delivery and all of that stuff. I know that sounds stupid, but it took me a while to get used to that. You couldn’t have anything delivered. D.C. has also changed so much since we’ve been here. We live in Dupont, and our neighborhood was great when we moved here, but there’s just so many new things around here, and I feel like 14th Street is crazy different.

Tell me about your time in New York and what you were up to.

Jennifer: I moved there to go to grad school at The New School, and then I started working at Condé Nast. I worked at the New Yorker and then Vogue and then Condé Nast Portfolio, which was short lived. It wasn’t about too long. But I loved that. I loved working in magazines.

I was writing at the same time, sort of. I started writing “Girls in White Dresses” my last year at Portfolio. When it folded, I had to get it all off my work computer because that’s where a lot of it was. I did that to my character too. I sort of made her at loose ends with losing her job because I think that was also part of my experience moving to D.C.

It wasn’t that I left my job and got to do it on my own time. It was sort of moved up because I lost my job, and then I knew I was moving. We actually got pretty good severance because the whole magazine was gone, so I took those five months that I had and I finished the whole book.

It actually worked out kind of well. I finished the book in New York and moved here. I had gotten an agent by that point, and it sold maybe four months after I got here. It didn’t feel like it was happening quickly when it happened but looking back it really did all happen kind of quickly. But I love New York. I knew I wasn’t going to stay there forever, but it’s a good city.

So now you teach at GW. What do you learn from that, especially about young woman, and pull into your books?

Jennifer: That’s so interesting. I started teaching five years ago, not long after I moved here. I really like it because I’m teaching [writing] workshops, so I read their writing, and we read short stories. I haven’t been in a workshop in a long time, and it’s one of those things where maybe they are just a different generation but they say things all the time that I write down that just make me laugh. They are very funny, and their writing is very good, so I sometimes just get ideas from our conversations in class.

How do you think the young women in New York are different than in D.C.?

Jennifer: You might have a different experience, but I think with New York, all of my friends had different jobs. I worked in magazines, one of my best friends worked at NBC, another one was a producer. Everyone had different jobs, and when I moved to D.C., what I felt at first, which wasn’t true, but I think because everyone I was meeting was through my husband, it felt to me like the whole city worked in politics, which is not true.

Part of what made the switch for when I started liking the city was I met a whole group of friends and none of them worked in politics. Then I was like, oh, there’s a life outside of this. When I first moved here and was meeting everyone, it just seemed like the whole city was working toward the same thing, and I never felt that in New York. I felt like I had friends in finance and friends in publishing and jobs where I didn’t even know what they did.

What advice do you have for young women, whether they’re moving from one city to the other or even just to survive in D.C. as a young woman? What do you tell them when you meet them?

Jennifer: I think I usually say to be patient because there are really great things about this place. I think moving anywhere is hard. I’m sure you’re probably experiencing it. We had two of our really good friends move to New York, and I actually think they’re moving back shortly. I think when you get used to a place, and if you’re someone who doesn’t like change, which I don’t, I think just being patient and letting yourself see the good things about it and not declare that you hate it completely right away, which is what I did a little bit.

Tell me about your life in D.C. Do you ever brunch?

Jennifer: I love it. I follow you guys. For our regular-nothing-special brunch, I really like the diner in Adams Morgan, if you can handle waiting. I like PJ Clarke’s. I just went to Joe’s the other day, which was great. I had never been there for brunch. Masa 14.. I’ve been there a few times. It’s always fun.

So are you a Bloody Mary or a mimosa girl?

Jennifer: Oh God, that’s such a hard question. Bloody Mary, but then I have to switch. You know how sometimes they fill you up? But I usually like to start with a Bloody Mary.

What role does brunch play in your books?

Jennifer: [In The Hopefuls] I have them brunching. There’s something fun about it, right? You’re probably going to drink during the day, and it’s a very carefree meal. I always have [characters] go to brunch, especially in “Girls in White Dresses.” I feel like that age group, that was such an [easy way] to get together and talk about what happened the night before. There’s nothing better than that than to have some more drinks and figure out what you did the night before.

How do you hope this book will impact people who read it?

Jennifer: I think you have to read books that you would want to read, but I also like that D.C. is sort of a character in this book because there’s something really special about this city. It’s weird and it’s strange but it’s unlike any other place. I hope that people get a glimpse into D.C., and I hope that they like my characters. I always love books that make you feel like you know the people or this happened to someone you know, so I just hope people get lost in it and enjoy the story.

Are you thinking about any future books at this point or are you taking a break?

Jennifer: Usually, with each book that I’ve written, halfway through, I start to get an idea for another book. Part of that is because it’s more fun to start something new than it is to finish writing. There’s so much work and structuring it and revising and all that stuff. When I was writing “The Smart One,” I was also writing “The Hopefuls,” which had a different title at the time.

So my next book is about a family who owns a restaurant, and I don’t know too much about it, but I think it’s takes place in Chicago. There’s a family of four—two parents and two daughters that are grown—and their aunts and their cousin. It’s a family business, so they’re all sort of working together, and that’s all I have now, just some really light sketches of what it is.

You grew up in Chicago, right?

Jennifer: Yeah, in the North suburbs.

Tell me about your perspective on young female life in Chicago versus New York and D.C.

Jennifer: That’s such a good question. I moved to New York when I was 23. So I grew up in Chicago, and then I lived there for two years after college. Chicago is a little more laid-back and a little friendly; also maybe one of the biggest differences is that people are so happy in the summer because it’s warm that you’re never inside. You’re out all the time in the summer.

New York didn’t feel too different to me, it’s just it’s a lot bigger. It felt less neighborhoody. D.C., I feel like people like happy hour more than they like going out late. I also was different ages when I moved to each one. Chicago and New York I feel like are later night places.

I think sometimes wherever you are, that’s the worst place. I don’t think I ever had a friend in New York that was like, ‘This is the best place to meet someone.’ But I actually think D.C. is harder. I don’t know. I don’t know if you think that, too. All my friends that are dating here, I think D.C. feels smaller. Everyone knows everyone.

One thing I will say about New York, since I’ve moved I romanticize and have just forgotten all of those days … those days when it feels hard to even get from your apartment to work when you step in a puddle with your flip flops and it’s dirty and you can’t get a cab. All of those things. There were times in New York when I’d get home and I’m like, I’m not leaving my apartment. I think I’ve just erased those from my memory because that’s not what I remember. I just remember all the great things.

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