The Smart One

Jennifer Close's debut, Girls in White Dresses, was a bestseller with a devoted following. The Smart One is every bit as good; Close has a fluent, conversational style and writes pitch-perfect dialogue, no matter the gender or age of her character.

The Coffey family--Will and Weezy and their children, Martha, Claire and Max--all love each other, but they are a family, after all, so it gets tricky at times. When the story opens, Claire, almost 30, is breaking her engagement to Doug, or he's breaking up with her--it doesn't really matter. Claire is living way beyond her means, on the verge of eviction, her credit cards maxed out. She decides to move home and pay her bills.

At 31, Martha is a needy worrywart, socially inept, in love with crisis and disaster. After her nursing career flames out, she goes to work at J. Crew and glories in the perfectly folded sweaters and khakis--until she can't look at them for another minute. She is back at home, living in her old bedroom and taking temporary caregiving jobs, promising herself that she will become re-certified as a nurse. To round out the cast, Max, a senior in college, suddenly learns his girlfriend, Cleo, is pregnant; upon their graduation, they move in, too. It's high school all over again: slammed doors, fights over the bathroom and sniping.

Claire is the smart one who sees everything clearly even though it takes her some time to sort herself out. Martha takes smaller steps than Claire, while Max and Cleo and baby Nina Grace stay with Will and Weezy. Still, great changes take place--even some growing up--in Jennifer Close's great portrayal of family life. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

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