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Weezy Coffey’s parents had always told her she was the smart one, while her sister was the pretty one. ...
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.
“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.” —Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
“Close’s gift as a writer is her spare but delicious prose and unflinching way of describing her characters.” —Marissa Stapley Ponikowski, The Globe and Mail
“A pleasure to read.” —Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“Close’s sophomore effort (after her acclaimed and best-selling Girls in White Dresses) is a well-written family drama in which all the characters keep moving forward, but not all the loose ends are completely and neatly tied. . . . Sure to please.” —Karen Core, Library Journal
“I want to be friends with all of the narrators of Jennifer Close’s addictive novel.” —Megan Angelo, Glamour
“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.” —Stephanie Turza, Booklist
“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.” —Kirkus
“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.” —Kate Christensen, author of The Astral
From the Hardcover edition.
1. What do the descriptions of Claire’s relationships with Doug [pp. 7–10], her friends [p. 5–6], and her boss [p. 11] establish about her? Are her reactions to the broken engagement and her financial situation typical? To what extent is her situation the result of own her choices?
2. Martha is initially presented through her perceptions and assessments both of herself and of the people with whom she interacts [pp. 21–37]. What particular observations undermine or belie Martha’s general sense of self-satisfaction and self-approval?
3. “Why,” the author says about Weezy, “did everyone act like it was so wrong of her to want her children to be happy and healthy and successful and settled?” [p. 47] What role do the notions of a child’s failure, success, and personal happiness play in the way we evaluate ourselves (or others) as parents?
4. What is the significance of Weezy’s secret meetings with wedding-service providers after Claire’s engagement is called off? What needs does the admittedly embarrassing activity fulfill for her?
5. Is Will the more realistic parent? In what ways does he embody the traditional attributes of a husband and father? How does the relationship between husband and wife shape their attitudes about the children? Discuss, for example, the import of the author’s statement about Weezy: “Of course she worried about them. That was what mothers did, wasn’t it? Will had the luxury of knowing that she was taking care of the worrying and so he didn’t have to.” [p. 52]
6. “Elizabeth was different from other mothers—Cleo knew that from the time she was about four.” [p. 55] Is Elizabeth a “bad mother”? Are there aspects of her parenting style you find acceptable and even admirable? How has her approach affected Cleo and her relationships with other people?
7. Why does Claire get involved with Fran? What impact do her memories of high school have on her behavior? Do Claire and Fran have similar motivations for embarking on an affair? Is their relationship understandable, or does it show a lack of judgment and maturity?
8. In discussing Claire with her therapist, Martha maintains “things come pretty easily for her” [p. 171]. What does this demonstrate about the way Martha chooses to present not only her sister but also herself? In what ways does Martha exploit and manipulate the personality traits and quirks the Coffeys ascribed to each child when they were growing up?
9. Is it common for families to assign roles to each person (i.e., the smart one, the sensitive one, the irresponsible one)? Why is it difficult for adults to escape these labels? Which character in the novel do you think the title refers to?
10. Cleo muses, “[Max’s] whole life, people had been doing things for him, telling him how cute and funny he was . . .” [p. 67]. How has Max’s position as the youngest child—and only son—in the family shaped the way he sees the world? What aspects of his personality help him cope with Cleo’s pregnancy and its repercussions? Is he in some ways better prepared for parenthood than Cleo is?
11. What kind of mother do you think Cleo will be? Will she take after Elizabeth, or will Weezy become her model? Will she and Max stay together?
12. Discuss the concepts of independence and dependency within a family. How do Martha, Claire, and Max reflect or challenge your definitions? How do Cleo and Elizabeth fit into your understanding of the expectations of support and compassion among family members?
13. Weezy notes that there is an “epidemic” of children moving back home with their parents [p. 101]. Do you agree that both generations have accepted and even welcomed this trend? What are the practical, psychological, and cultural implications for both parents and adult children?
14. From Max and Cleo’s life at college, to Martha’s behavior at her jobs, to family interactions at the beach and at various gatherings, the author vividly portrays the small moments of daily life. Discuss the particular images, comic touches, and domestic and familial details that resonate with you and capture universal experiences and feelings.
Posted August 19, 2013
aThe Coffey siblings are having a rough year. Martha is thirty and working at J. Crew after a spectacular career flameout; Claire has broken up with her fiancé and locked herself in her New York apartment until her bank account looks as grim as her mood; and the baby of the family, Max, is dating a knockout classmate named Cleo and keeping a very big, very life-altering secret. The only solution—for all of them—is to move back home.
As a parent of adult children who have not left home or moved back home and then back out I was so looking forward to this book. Sadly I felt like “The Not Smart One” for sticking with this book. This one just fell flat for me.
The characters just laid there on the page. One sister was whiny, one sister was in denial, the brother was young and had to grow up quickly, but still has to find out about real life out on his own. The mother was an enabler when it came to one child, distant from what the other two were going through and struggling to find herself outside of being just a mom. The father was totally disconnected from everyone.
I guess I just was waiting for something earth shattering to happen and it didn’t. I was hoping something was going to happen on the annual trip to the shore but two trips there were two trips too many.
I thought I maybe would see some of myself in the mom, but boy she did things like “spoiler alert” continue to plan her daughter’s wedding for months after it was cancelled! She continued to choose the flowers, go to food tastings and other “meetings” just for something to do. This women needs a job or a hobby or to volunteer for a good cause.
Her husband seems to live in his den. He teaches at the local college but never seems to leave the house.
I won’t even get started on the kids. I am just so glad they are not related to me!
I am wavering between 2 or 3 starfish on this one. I did finish it. Read it to the very last page and enjoyed a few excerpts so I will give it 3 but if it you to try it is is definitely one to pick up from the library.
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Posted April 8, 2013
Posted December 16, 2013
This book was a great peak into the life of a family with adult children who still have so many, many issues. I enjoyed the writing style which allowed for different viewpoints from the main characters. It is always interesting to me how different people can have such different views on the same subjects and this book brought to light the issues within a family and how a family deals with them without breaking up or freaking out. Great easy chic lit read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2013
I enjoyed Girls in White Dresses, but not this book by Jennifer Close. The storyline was boring, filled with "adult" children that can't get their act together, mainly due to the mother's doing everything for them their entire lives, which is a familar theme today. I guess that was the point of the story, but some of the characters got on my nerves, especially Weezy and Martha. There were some funny sentences but I kept waiting for something substantial to happen and it didn't.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2013
Honestly i did not like this. I liked white dresses but hated this book. It rambled and i felt like the author aded things that did not make sence just to fill the book. Not a big fanWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 1, 2013
Posted September 24, 2013
Posted September 15, 2013
Posted September 5, 2013
I loved Girls in White Dresses and was so excited to read The Smart One. Jennifer Close did not disappoint.. the story was so relateable and I am so attached to the characters. It was hard to put the book down!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 3, 2013
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings
If you have a sibling, have you ever been compared or compared yourself to them? I don't know if there is a soul out there that doesn't feel a little sibling rivalry. The Smart One by Jennifer Close has two generations of sibling rivalry and what can happen when a family of adult children are all brought back home for an extended amount of time.
Posted July 22, 2013
While vacationing at the beach, I read the perfect beach book- Jennifer Close’s The Smart One. I read her previous novel, Girls in White Dresses, and liked it, but found it hard to relate the 20-something single girls, as I have passed that mark awhile ago.
But The Smart One refers to Weezy Coffey, the fifty-something wife and mother of three adult children, so I was all about this book. Weezy is knee-deep in preparations for her daughter Claire’s wedding. Then the wedding gets called off and Claire goes into a tailspin, quitting her job too.
So she must move back home to Pennsylvania, where oldest daughter Martha also lives. Martha was a nurse for a short time, but that didn’t work out, so she has been working as a manager at J. Crew. Martha has social issues; she really has no friends and never had a boyfriend. Coping with the world is not her best skill.
Son Max is eighteen and away at college. Then he gets his girlfriend Cleo pregnant and they move into the basement.
So now Weezy and her husband Will, who had been looking forward to an empty nest, find themselves with all three adult children back home. How did this happen?
Weezy so enjoyed all of the wedding planning that she just never told the florist or the caterer that the wedding was off. She continued to meet with them, tasting menus and looking at gorgeous floral arrangements. What was the harm in that?
I identified with Weezy, and winced when I saw characteristics in her that I do not like in myself. “Weezy had a high horse. And she could get on it whenever she wanted. Maureen used to always tease her when she’d go off on other people’s behavior. “Uh-oh”, she’d say. “Giddyup! Here comes the horse.” Ugh.
Weezy not only had to deal with her children, but her elderly mother Bets and sister Maureen. The descriptions of family Thanksgiving celebrations and all of the maneuvering and trying to keep peace and not blow a gasket, well if you can’t relate to that, you’ve never had a family Thanksgiving.
The story is told from alternating view points- Weezy, Martha, Claire and Cleo. Their voices are all distinct and strong , something I found a bit lacking in Girls in White Dresses.
The details in this novel are so perfect. I loved the list of THINGS WE NEED that is taped to the refrigerator. When things got purchased, they were crossed off, and a new list was started.
Max played hockey, and the descriptions and feelings that Weezy had about being a hockey mom brought me back to my days as a baseball mom. I don’t know how someone as young as Close was able to tap into that, but she sure did.
She also nails the new parent feelings that Max and Cleo have when their baby is born. Those feeling you have of love mixed with sleeplessness mixed with exhaustion mixed with joy; it’s all right there.
And I loved the idea of naming tables at your wedding after favorite books! Oh I wish I had thought of that 26 years ago.
One of the characters, Jaz, a wise woman, tells Martha “It’s funny, you know. Not what I had planned for my life, but that’s how it works sometimes.” That pretty much sums up the theme of The Smart One. Life isn’t always what you dreamed; you play the cards you are dealt.
The Smart One bridges the gap between young women starting out and older women, watching their children make mistakes and not knowing what to do. I think that women of all ages should read this, it will help them empathize and understand each other.
Posted July 17, 2013
People say that one of the reasons that Sex and the City did so well is because every woman could relate to every character. We all have a little bit of Charlotte, Samantha, Carrie, and Miranda in us, even if we don’t like to admit it. This is the exact same reason that I adored The Smart One by Jennifer Close. I could relate to each and every one of the main characters on some level, even if i didn’t want to admit it.
First we have Claire, who plunged herself into so much debt after her engagement ended that she had to move home to pay it off. While home, she reverts back to her teenage self and picks up with a high school crush who is living in his basement. Then we have Martha (age 30) simply never left the house and gave up nursing to work at J. Crew. Lastly, we have Max, a college senior who’s forced to move home with his pregnant girlfriend, Cleo, who no one knows he’s been living with. Put them all together under the same roof again and it’s like living with teenagers all over again, only much more entertaining.¿
You might be asking yourself how I could relate to all of these characters, so I’ll tell you. Like Claire, I moved home in my mid-20′s to save money, and like Martha, I spent a few too many years in retail. Granted, I’ve never brought home a pregnant girlfriend, but I can empathize nonetheless. And while I don’t have kids, I can absolutely see my own fantastic mother welcoming home all four of her children as adults and then wishing that we’d get it together. Luckily for her, this hasn’t happened. Yet.
The Smart One is both hilarious and heartbreaking. I desperately wanted the kids to get it together and let their parents be, but at the same time I knew that Wheezy, like many empty nesters, was glad to be needed again. There were some laugh out loud moments, like the two weeks that the fashion-modelesque Cleo spent in her bikini, and when the author compared the Boston accent to a chicken squawk (how dare she!). And then there were also some heartbreaking ones, like watching Max and Cleo find out and come to terms with being pregnant at 21 and Wheezy’s difficulty accepting her children’s ‘failures’.
By the time the book ended, I felt like I was part of the Coffey family. The author did such a great job of bringing the reader into the story that I had a vested interest in each of their successes. Anyone with siblings (especially sisters) or that is in their late 20′s-early 30′s should read this book because I can (almost) guarantee that you will relate to someone in the book. And if you don’t – it’s still a great read.
P.S. I also thought it was pretty neat that the one specific date in the entire book was July 15… and I read it on July 15.
Posted July 2, 2013
Posted June 7, 2013
Posted May 6, 2013
While this book is more of a slower read than some, I enjoyed it. She really develops the characters so you feel like you can understand them. I liked the different points of view as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2013
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Posted August 8, 2013
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Posted June 3, 2013
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Posted May 19, 2013
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Posted October 15, 2013
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