Review of Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close @jenniferclose

Marrying the Ketchups
Jennifer Close
April 26, 2022

Blurb: Here are the three things the Sullivan family knows to be true: the Chicago Cubs will always be the underdogs; historical progress is inevitable; and their grandfather, Bud, founder of JP Sullivan’s, will always make the best burgers in Oak Park. But when, over the course of three strange months, the Cubs win the World Series, Trump is elected president, and Bud drops dead, suddenly everyone in the family finds themselves doubting all they hold dear.
Take Gretchen for example, lead singer for a ’90s cover band who has been flirting with fame for a decade but is beginning to wonder if she’s too old to be chasing a childish dream. Or Jane, Gretchen’s older sister, who is starting to suspect that her fitness-obsessed husband who hides the screen of his phone isn’t always “working late.” And then there’s Teddy, their steadfast, unfailingly good cousin, nursing heartbreak and confusion because the guy who dumped him keeps showing up for lunch at JP Sullivan’s where Teddy is the manager. How can any of them be expected to make the right decisions when the world feels sideways—and the bartender at JP Sullivan’s makes such strong cocktails?
Outrageously funny and wickedly astute, Marrying the Ketchups is a delicious confection by one of our most beloved authors.

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Have you ever read a book that conveys a lot of what you’ve been thinking or feeling or tells the truths about events that you’ve observed in your everyday life? If you have, then you know exactly how I felt while reading Jennifer Close’s Marrying the Ketchups. The moment her characters express the extreme dismay/disbelief over the election results that seems to descend into something near depression, I thought, oh, yes, this I know. And, all of the Irish Catholics who take DNA tests only to discover that they’re 80% English and then hide the results so they can continue to be more Irish than the folks in Ireland; yes, this too I’ve seen.

After a betrayal, which Gretchen may simply be using as an excuse to finally move on from a slowly disintegrating situation, she decides to return to Chicago, giving up the dream she had of being a music star because now that she’s thirty-something it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Instead, she works at the family restaurant and lives in the tiny apartment above the restaurant.

Likewise, sister Jane is growing more disillusioned with her own life, her suddenly fitness-crazed husband who stays late at work, doesn’t help her when he is around, and just doesn’t seem to “get” her anymore.

And, then there’s cousin Teddy (who I just couldn’t help but picture as Patrick from Schitt’s Creek), who has been unceremoniously dumped and also returns to the family restaurant, filled with ideas that no one listens to. In fact, he’s pretty sure that no one listens to him period.

Lastly, there’s Reilly, Teddy’s half-sister who is a teenager, experiencing a tumultuous world as part of the tumult that is being a teenager.

I fell in love with the Sullivan family and its many quirks. These people put the diss in dysfunction but, because of the way they are portrayed, I loved them all the more. It’s very rare that an author writes three main characters and I absolutely adore each of them, but here it’s been done.

As I neared the last third of the novel, I thought of Anne Tyler and the way she writes of Baltimore and Baltimore families and how Jennifer Close is doing something similar for Chicago and Chicago families. These writers love each of the family members they create despite how they behave. It’s something we encounter in our own lives, how our human foibles can be accepted by the people who love us.

I appreciated the way that Close dealt with the concept of racism and wokeness; how it can be dealt with superficially, a little pat on the back saying, “I’ve taught my kids not to see color” or an over-compensating “wokeness” that also feels superficial. Or the environment: how one group with free-flowing money thinks nothing of using gas guzzlers and living extravagantly while the other makes a show of their ubiquitous tote bags (anyone recall the South Park hybrid car episode, “Smug Alert”?). Or how the name Trump ripped apart families or friendships that had endured for decades.

Marrying the Ketchups made me feel so many things: embarrassed, sad, teary, joy, angry, upset, laughter, and most of all that I never wanted it to end. I still want to know how Gretchen, Jane, Reilly, and Teddy’s lives unfold in the years to come. A sequel in five years would be brilliant, and maybe there will be a far more optimistic world embracing us all. In the meantime, I’ll just read Close’s other novels to see if they make me as happy of a reader as this one did.

While Marrying the Ketchups might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it was mine.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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