The Smart One By Jennifer Close (2.5 out of 5)
I haven’t read anything by Jennifer Close prior to this one. And this one had me until about page 150. Then a few things changed in the plot. Namely, I stopped having sympathy for the Coffey siblings. I had no reservations reading the individual stories of the three siblings: Martha, Max, and Claire. Throw in the mom Weezy and dad Will and Max’s girlfriend Cleo, and you have a lot of interlocking stories at once. Normally, this is right up my book queue. Something changed, and it didn’t change back into a shiny, happy book vibe by the end.
Martha is working as a manager at J.Crew when the novel begins. Her normal occupation is nursing, but she got burned out and quit nursing. She’s a straight up, type A personality who quickly tires of J.Crew retail life, and she quits and gets a temporary job as a caretaker to an elderly old man. It isn’t long before that is starting to chafe Martha’s starched shirt mentality. Let me say that I didn’t understand that leap one bit- if you’re in the healthcare business, frequently, you will have some form of experience with the elderly, and while it’s a frustrating time caring for the elderly, there is some measure of feeling like you make a difference (I speak from experience). Martha’s whiny and silent thoughts throughout those chapters made me irritable. I am not a fan. Her overwhelming discussions of the family to her own family speak to me of something transferring their lack of caring into a different form, as if she’s phoning it in. Likely the author did not intend for her to come off this way; that’s just how I perceived her. My favorite part of Martha’s story is when her therapist goes off on her and basically tells her to stop being a victim (or to that effect).
Claire is the next Coffey sibling not having a good year. She and her ex just called off their engagement and she’s drowning in debt. I read her depression over the end of the relationship as not caring and therefore, not getting her shit paid off, and making it worse by paying her utlities and rent by putting them on a charge card that is maxed out. She’s afraid of phoning home and having to confess to her parents that this is going on; but she eventually does and moves home. Weezy knows the wedding is off, but in a rare show of displaced parental disappointment, still meets with the wedding caterers and planners, as if it’s still going on. Of the three children, Claire’s story struck me as the most real and her character was the one I had the most sympathy for throughout. I hope the author spins her off into her own novel. I would certainly read that.
Max is the one sibling I had a hard time figuring out. Except, I really didn’t. He’s the “atypical” baby of the family, who is spoiled rotten and doesn’t always have the ‘role model’ cross to be hung onto. He struck me as a reasonably friendly, smart young man who sees nothing wrong with living it up, drinking a bit much, partying, and being carefree to the nth degree. He’s even got the obligatory supermodel hot girlfriend, Cleo. Things are going great there, until they both get one hell of a wake-up call which challenges not only their feelings, but their relationship, their views on many things, and their life overall. Once the family gets wind of what’s going on, they begin influencing Max on what decision to make, leaving out Cleo, who has every right to be pissed off at being excluded when she’s part of the situation. I really also enjoyed Cleo as a character. She is a very real female character, with insecurities, self-esteem issues, and a basketful of feelings that come out when shit gets real. Maybe they could spin her and Claire off into a new novel? Max, on the other hand, just strikes me as a spoiled little kid who needs to grow the hell up. Again, very possibly, this is how the author wants him to be perceived. If so, she did a great job.
Weezy and Will try very hard to keep their kids in line and in the right direction, but the two of them both have some issues themselves. I would have liked to have seen more interaction with the two parents. I think had they been even more involved, and not in the gossipy way that you see Weezy’s maternal instincts roar out in regards to the Max and Cleo situation, maybe I would have liked them more. Weezy struck me as bored out of her skull and going through a mid-life crisis that revolves around her three children going in radically different directions, and her attempts to stick her nose in, Will struck me as mid-life crisis that I’m surprised didn’t manifest in an affair. I guess he would have to leave his study for that to happen, and he really doesn’t leave the study much in the book. Hermetic is the best word I could come up with. Maybe shutting himself away makes it easier for him to ignore all the flashing red lights throughout the house.
Overall, not a bad book, but I had such a hard time getting through it after the first initial setup. I think the Cleo/Max situation and how it came to being brought to fruition by the family, made me see red so much that I just shot the book down automatically based on that sequence of events. I wanted to smack Weezy and Will into marriage counseling. I wanted to smack Max with a reality bat. I wanted to smack Martha with the “It could be worse than you’re making it out to be” shoe. It wraps up nicely, but the heart quit beating out of the story when several of the characters made me so annoyed that I lost some feeling of connection with the book itself. I enjoyed the writing, I enjoyed the characters for the most part, but I think she could have shaken up the pinata a little bit more, and threw some real challenges at the characters. I really did enjoy the resolution to the book, and I hope we see several of these characters again.