In one my earlier posts of the summer, I reviewed Jennifer Close’s debut novel, Girls in White Dresses. While I loved most aspects of the book, one of the criticisms I had of it was the introduction of too many characters. As I read Close’s second novel, The Smart One, I think the phrase, too many cooks in the kitchen, can best aptly describe the numerous perspectives from which the story was told.
After reading an online summary of The Smart One, I was under the impression that Martha and Claire Coffey, two (almost thirty-something) sisters that live with their parents, were the main characters. While this is true, most of the chapters do alternate between each sister’s point of view, a significant chunk of the book is told from two other characters: Weezy, Martha and Claire’s mother, and Cleo, their younger brother’s girlfriend. One of Close’s strengths as a writer is her ability to introduce the reader to compelling characters. However, because there were four protagonists instead of just one or two, the characters didn’t seem to be completely developed.
To provide some context, Martha struggles with the stress associated with her nursing job, so she quits and instead gets a managerial position at a J. Crew store. She has lived with her parents for several years and initially has no plans to find her own place. On the other hand, the dissolution of Claire’s engagement and significant debt results in her move from New York back home to her parents house. Unlike her sister, Claire makes it clear that her move home is strictly temporary. These two characters have such interesting, yet contrasting personalities, they alone have enough internal and external conflict that their story is a story.
While Weezy and Cleo were likable, it seemed unnecessary to make them anything more than supporting characters. Their points of view and personal conflict took away from the focus on the Coffey sisters and slowed down the pace the of story.
Martha and Claire’s character journey reminded me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it seemed as though they had self actualized before a significant amount of conflict in their lives was resolved. By the end of the novel, so many loose ends had to be tied that I, the reader, was left with gaping holes and confusion as to how they got from point A to C. Needless to say, this book was underwhelming. By the end, I lacked interest in the characters present and future.