Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boomerang phenomenon tale lacks pathos, plot

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Like many American middle-class parents, the fictional Weezy and Will Coffey always assumed that if they raised their children with love and care they would turn out to be self-sufficient, successful and happy adults who only came home for the holidays.

That assumption, however, left no room for nervous breakdowns, broken engagements or unwanted pregnancies -- all of which befall one or another of the Coffey children and compel them all to move back home.

In reality, the boomerang phenomenon of college-educated adult children moving back in with their parents has become a growing and alarming trend in the western world. A recent Canadian study indicated that about 40 per cent of young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 currently live with or have moved back with their parents.

It is this phenomenon that lies at the heart of The Smart One, a new novel from Washington-based chick lit author Jennifer Close.

Its timely subject matter is likely to be compared to Leigh Stein's The Fallback Plan, published to wide appeal last year.

Like Close's 2011 debut, Girls in White Dresses, her new work of fiction aims to offer a slice of life glimpse into contemporary American young adulthood, and the relationships, challenges and expectations that define that phase of life. The fact that it attempts to do so without a glimmer of humour, pathos or a plot makes this novel largely inconsequential.

Weezy and Will, and their three children, Martha, Claire and Max, are uniformly dull, self-involved and uninteresting. The two daughters in particular are oddly unpleasant.

Claire moves home to Philadelphia after her wedding plans are abruptly called off and she maxes out her credit cards while holed up in her New York City apartment.

Martha, her older sister, has already been living back home with her parents for years, after a short-lived nursing career that left her riddled with anxiety and doubt. Now she works as a manager at a suburban J Crew outlet and takes inordinate pleasure in folding T-shirts.

Close in age, the sisters can't stand each other and are impatient, mean and vindictive towards one another. They act like elementary school-age children rather than adults verging on 30, yet Close makes no effort to explain their intense malevolence, immaturity or rivalry.

Weezy's motivations and movements are a little better explained. In a rare insightful passage, Close writes that Weezy "felt like there was nothing surprising to look forward to -- that is until Claire had gotten engaged... Her children were mostly grown, they'd gone off to college, and she had just been waiting, stalled really, for the next stage of her life to start."

Close tosses a few other characters into the mix, among them old boyfriends, new employers, college roommates, aunts and cousins, but they add little colour or excitement to the narrative. Like the five members of the Coffey family, they are bland, blurry and unremarkable.

Ultimately, even though the Coffeys' troubles are reflective of modern times, it is doubtful that readers will care to spend too much time with them. Individually and as a whole they are just too one-dimensional and too boring.

Winnipeg writer Sharon Chisvin is the mother of three young adults.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 J8

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