Literature: Girls in White Dresses

Engagements, weddings, baby showers galore! In her debut novel,   captures those after college years where the rent is high and the dating is tough.
By Shannon O’Reilly

Jennifer Close was born and raised on the North Shore of Chicago. She is a graduate of Boston College and received her MFA in Fiction Writing from The New School in 2005. She worked in New York in magazines for many years and then in Washington, D.C., as a bookseller. Girls in White Dresses is her first book. Photo Michael Lionstar.

Every friend group has them: the girl with permanent beer goggles, who only seems too like ugly boys or the girl that’s a tightly wound ball of anxiety who teeters on the edge of neuroticism. There’s also the party girl, who brings the type “B” to the group and leaves home any trace of responsibility. We love them. We hate them. Most of all, we just can’t seem to live without them.

In Jennifer Close’s debut novel Girls in White Dresses, the bewildering, exciting, and break-down-and-cry-over-a box-of-chocolate years of early adulthood are intimately portrayed through three main women: Isabella, Mary, and Lauren. At first these girls appear uncannily familiar, toward the end they become your closest friends, a goal of Jennifer’s for her novel.

“Best thing someone can say to me is that these girls are just like my friends or I recognize the people in this book,” said Jennifer, “that makes me really happy.”

The novel isn’t your typical “chick lit.” Through the stories of the three girls and their subsequent friends, Jennifer realistically writes about the bond between women during those crucial years after college and before marriage, employment, and children.

Jennifer’s life has followed a similar trajectory. She got her degree, moved to the big city, got engaged, and then moved again. After graduating from Boston College and receiving an MFA in Fiction Writing, she worked in New York for multiple magazines, fulfilling her Manhattan dreams. When the magazine she worked for shut down she moved to D.C. with her fiancé and became a book buyer at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in D.C. Jennifer didn’t come unprepared, she entered the District with a book deal that would soon lead to the birth of her first novel, published on August 9th. This is an accomplishment Jennifer can only describe as “surreal.”

Thus, it only seemed right that D.C. be the first stop on her book tour. Originally, Jennifer explained, the transfer from New York City life to Washington was not an easy one, especially when she had fallen in love with the literary culture of the big apple. However, the book gurus at Politics & Prose made the transition easier and gave her the literary family she needed.

“It’s a real special bookstore,” said Jennifer.

Jennifer Close's Girls in White Dresses is both hilarious and heartwarming. Photo by Shannon O'Reilly.

It was no surprise that the atmosphere at Politics & Prose was one of joy and excitement, as one of their own read from her first published novel. Family, friends, and newcomers wined and dined on cheese, cupcakes and champagne. Jennifer even indulged in a celebratory glass as she read from her novel while wearing her very own white dress.

Jennifer began the evening by explaining the unique structure of her novel, which closely mirrors a collection of short stories. She wrote Girls in White Dresses in pieces, only later on did she begin to see the same characters and an arch for a story. From there, Jennifer explained, the rest came “organically.”

For the reading, she chose the sections “Summer Sausage” and “Hope,” showcasing the minor characters Ellen and Shannon. It’s hard not to laugh at the wit and the humor of Jennifer’s prose and it’s obvious that this is what she does best.

“I tend to write funny,” Jennifer explained. “It took a while to realize what I could do well.”

As an added bonus, Jennifer interjected her own experiences and life stories throughout the reading, showing just how much of her went into the novel. For instance, the title “Summer Sausage” is a snack she grew up with while living in Chicago. “It’s a Midwest thing,” said Jennifer, “and it is delicious.”

The section talks about Ellen and her boyfriend Louis, who is, to put it simply, annoying. Pretentious and socially awkward, Louis carries a pocketsize, paperback copy of Why I Am So Wise by Nietzsche and ends Happy Birthday in cards not with an exclamation mark but with a period. One of Jennifer’s more hilarious characters, she gives Politics & Prose partial credit for the creation of Louis.

“While I was shelving I found a Nietzsche that could pocket size,” Jennifer explained for the reasoning behind choosing Why I Am So Wise. “See, this is how Politics & Prose makes me a better writer.”

The reading ended with a book signing and reuniting with old friends. The signing lasted an hour and an half, as Jennifer took photos with friends, signed books, and caught up with fellow employees.

While reflecting on the night’s events Jennifer couldn’t help but sigh, “It’s fun but feels like a dream.” She will have to undergo more of these “surreal” nights as she embarks for Chicago, New York, and Texas.

But wait, there’s more. We haven’t seen the last of Jennifer Close. Already, she is finishing up a second book untitled novel and brainstorming for a third novel. It’s seems Jennifer has finally switched sides, from book buyer to writer, and she is taking it in strides.

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