Two novels. Two families. Two very different reactions.
LITTLE KNOWN FACTS by Christine Sneed (Bloomsbury USA)
The people who orbit around Renn Ivins, an actor of Harrison Ford-like stature — his girlfriends, his children, his ex-wives, those on the periphery — long to experience the glow of his flame. Anna and Will are Renn’s grown children, struggling to be authentic versions of themselves in a world where they are seen as less-important extensions of their father. They are both drawn to and repelled by the man who overshadows every part of them.
A story of the fallout of fame and fortune on family members and others who can neither fully embrace nor ignore the superstar in their midst. A story of influence and affluence, of forging identity and happiness and a moral compass; the question being, if we could have anything on earth, would we choose correctly?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Little Known Facts. I’d been looking for something new and different to read, and this looked like it might fit the bill. Sneed’s prose is very good, and pulled me through the novel nicely. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, and the novel works its way through the experiences of those who have been swept up into Renn Ivins’s orbit. Sneed does an excellent job giving each character their own distinct voice, and luckily all of them worked.
As can perhaps be predicted, there’s a fair amount of bad behaviour in this novel — especially when it comes to infidelity and philandering (Renn’s behaviour is quite reprehensible in some cases). Each of the characters is flawed, of course, in their own way. Each of them is trying to carve their own identity separate from Renn, while also being unable to resist the allure of proximity and what that conveys and enjoying some of the perks.
I really enjoyed reading this novel. And, despite some flaws, would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good story about family, fame and celebrity (but mostly focused on what’s going on with the individual family members).
Little Known Facts is published by Bloomsbury.
THE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close (Knopf)
The story of a young wife who follows her husband and his political dreams to D.C., a city of idealism, gossip, and complicated friendships among young Washington’s aspiring elite.
When Beth arrives in Washington, D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn’t work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunch, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy’s star rises higher and higher, their friendship – and Beth’s relationship with Matt – is threatened by jealousy, competition and rumors.
A glorious send-up of young D.C. and a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, this is the finest work yet by one of our most beloved writers.
I think “glorious send-up” means something different to me than to the writer of the synopsis. I had high hopes for this novel, but unfortunately it didn’t deliver. There’s nothing wrong with Close’s prose — there’s a very good flow, and I read the novel pretty quickly. But, ultimately, the story was dull. Things happen, of course, but so much of what I think might have been interesting takes place off-stage. Beth is basically floating through this novel, a mere observer to… well, very little.
Maybe if you’ve lived and worked in DC, you’ll “get” this. There’s certainly a “knowing” tone to some of the scenes. I just think it’s not being quite as clever as it thinks it is. There was nothing particularly original, and nothing particularly interesting in the novel. There was only one moment that made me chuckle (a dream about Mitt Romney). Most of the points to be made — young DC workers are self-involved, form their own tribal rituals and rules, are too earnest for their own good, and are also highly competitive and jealous — is repeated so often, with little variation. The characters felt flat, and Beth’s self-involvement blinded her to potentially interesting observations (maybe that was the point — if Beth was meant to be a boring character, then job well done).
Most of the elements of the novel felt half-baked — if things had just been followed through, then it could have been a very good novel. As it stands, it’s unfortunately quite bland.
The Hopefuls is published by Knopf in July 2016.