Jennifer Close’s fiction debut tackles tales of wedding exhaustion


Jennifer Close, an up and coming author of ‘Girls in White Dresses,’ in her apartment with her little dog Wrigley. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

Watch closely on a Monday morning, and you’ll see them everywhere — sallow-faced, rumpled, hungover and broke. They won’t make eye contact; the risk of one more social interaction is too great. They have smiled and chatted and wept and danced all weekend. What they want now is to go back to bed.

They are the wedding-goers, in a marathon. These ragged souls don’t have two or three weddings to attend this year. They have six, maybe eight, plus a shower, engagement party and bachelor/bachelorette getaway for each. Presence — and presents — always required.

“It sort of overtakes your life,” says Jennifer Close, an author based in the District, who was in the middle of one such summer when she started pounding out short stories based on the nuptial mania.

The weddings kept coming, and so did the stories, forming the basis of Close’s first book, “Girls in White Dresses,” which hit shelves last week and is expected to be one Knopf’s biggest releases of the year.

“Even my boss was like, ‘Are you lying about how many weddings you’re going to?’ So it just was on my brain,” recalls Close, who works part time at Politics and Prose and will be signing books there Tuesday.

“Girls in White Dresses” follows three women and peripheral friends as they alternately flounder and flourish through their 20s. Weddings provide the backdrop as the women feel their way in and out of inert relationships and crappy jobs, trying to figure out who they want to be.

It isn’t just that the weddings fill their weekends and drain their bank accounts; they mark the women’s lives, dividing friends into haves and have-nots, with some waving triumphantly from the altar while others stay put in their studio apartments, smoking cigs out the window. (At least until the first divorce, when the roles reverse.)

“I met a guy,” Lauren told her. “He’s great.” Isabella immediately hoped that it wouldn’t work out and then felt awful about that. Lauren was her friend, but she didn’t want to be the last single one standing.

Close, a 32-year-old native of Chicago, moved to New York in her early 20s to get a master of fine arts at the New School, where she wrote all her work from a male point of view to avoid being too revelatory.

“I didn’t want anyone to think it was my voice,” she says from the couch of the Dupont Circle apartment she shares with her fiance and a Yorkshire terrier named Wrigley. She is self-deprecating and funny, embarrassed when she looks down and realizes she’s wearing a white dress not unlike the one on the book’s cover. “Great,” she sighs. “I’m a nerd.”

After interning at the New Yorker, Close spent a year at Vogue before signing on to help launch the short-lived business magazine Portfolio. By 2009 she’d risen to become assistant managing editor, which meant a lot of late nights spent waiting for proofs to come in.

“So I’d be in my office, typing,” says Close, a redhead with a whiskey voice and big laugh. She began writing from a female perspective, mining her own life and the lives of her wedding-sapped friends.

Portfolio suddenly folded in April 2009. But by then she had eight or nine stories tucked away and had begun to think they could be a book.

With three months’ severance, she hunkered down to write. “It ended up being great,” she says, “even though I didn’t think that at the time.”

By fall, she had signed with an agent and was preparing to move to Washington to be with her fiance, Tim Hartz, who worked on the Obama campaign before taking a job with the administration. (The chapter that’s most difficult for Close to read now is the one that mirrors her life: Boyfriend skips town to join an exciting presidential campaign, then resentment builds as he starts to seem more attached to his BlackBerry than his girlfriend.)

In June last year, on her 31st birthday, the manuscript was sent off to publishers. Within a week, editors at Doubleday and Knopf, which are both owned by Random House, wanted to buy rights. Close signed a two-book deal with Knopf.

“I know it’s a cliche for people to say they laughed out loud, but I laughed out loud and was quoting from it and reading out loud,” says Jennifer Jackson, Close’s editor at Knopf.

“I felt like these were the stories my friends tell me about themselves,” Jackson adds. “There’s an edge to the way these women talk to each other — they get sick of each other, they get annoyed with each other, they swear at each other, but they still care about each other.”

Knopf almost never releases advance copies by first-time authors, but the publishers are so sure that “Girls In White Dresses” will touch a nerve with the “Bridget Jones”/“Sex in the City” crowd that they made an exception, allowing buzz to build on review sites.

“Women everywhere have either lived these same scenarios or will live them out soon,” wrote one Goodreads.com reviewer.

Close has worked at Politics and Prose since June of last year to give herself structure and a supplemental income as she writes her next book, a novel about two adult sisters who are forced by circumstances to move back in with their parents.

She’s on leave now, not only because she’s scheduled for a six-city book tour, but also because she is — ta-da! — gearing up for her own wedding. In October, she and Hartz will marry in Chicago, which means bachelorette parties, showers and a lot of eye rolling about the irony.

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