The Smart One by Jennifer Close

The Smart One centers around Weezy Coffey, a house wife and mostly stay at home mom who, along with her husband has successfully raised three children – Martha, Claire and Max. As a child Weezy’s mom had always called her “the smart one”, while thinking that her sister Maureen was “the pretty one” who would marry well and raise a bunch of children. This novel has a lot to say about expectations – those that come from family and friends, and those of  birth order, appearance and personality. Weezy prides herself on having thwarted her mother’s expectations. In spite of being “the smart one” she has gone on to marry well and raise children.

When the Coffey siblings return the family home, much to Weezy’s chagrin,  after imploding careers, failed engagements, and relationships woes Weezy feels that her children’s missteps say something about her own skill as a parent. The novel follows her and her children as she sets about  trying to make things better for them, now that they are no longer children.

The Smart One is the follow-up to the wildly popular and well-received Girls In White Dresses. This is my first time reading Close, and I must say that she writes beautifully of  deeply of troubled characters who find themselves at crossroads, struggling under the weight of their choices and the resulting circumstances. Her insights into sibling relationships, changing family dynamics when children move home, and tensions within a marriage that has accommodate its grown children, are well observed and spot on. My only quibble is that some of the characters encountered are exactly the ones that you would expect. The slightly racist and crotchety elderly grandmother, the former hot guy/crush who peaked in high school and now lives at home, the rekindled romance with said guy. You get the idea. Yes, they do exist, but also, yes, they were a little ho-hum. Thankfully the  strength of Close’s writing saves the novel from wandering to far into cliche. This is a thoughtful novel, and while I wouldn’t say it’s depressing, I can’t characterize it as feel-good either. So if the cover is giving off that vibe, don’t be fooled.  It is an absorbing family study that is perfect to be discussed with friends or mused on in private. Recommended.

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