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Marrying the Ketchups: A novel

Marrying the Ketchups: A novel

by Jennifer Close
Marrying the Ketchups: A novel

Marrying the Ketchups: A novel

by Jennifer Close


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An irresistible comedy of manners about three generations of a Chicago restaurant family and the deep-fried, beer-battered, cream cheese-frosted love that feeds them all—from the best-selling author of Girls in White Dresses

“Laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply resonant to our times. I was so happy to be in the Sullivan family’s Chicago bar, caught in the swirl of three generations of grudges, love affairs and fraught personal decisions.”
—Ann Napolitano, best-selling author of Dear Edward

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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525658870
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/26/2022
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 25,217
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

JENNIFER CLOSE is the best-selling author of Girls in White Dresses, The Smart One, and The Hopefuls. 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. She now lives in Washington, DC, and teaches creative writing at Catapult.

Read an Excerpt


The morning of the Women’s March, surrounded by pussy hats and determined women, Gretchen face-planted in the street. It was a fantastic and dramatic fall, the kind people would tell their friends about later. Her jacket caught on one of the metal barricades and (thinking that someone was grabbing her) she screamed, “Help!” and then lurched forward, tripping over the curb and pulling the barricade down on top of her. She landed hard, slamming her hands and knees against the pavement. On the way down, she’d thrown her coffee forward and it landed on the back of a woman’s coat—soft, white, and expensive—and from the ground she called up, “I’m so sorry.”

The woman didn’t exactly smile, but she moved her lips in an upward motion and that was something. Any other time, she would’ve yelled at Gretchen, but today wasn’t the day to fight. Today they were all united against the same thing. They were a mob of positive energy. They were trying to prove there was still good in the world and that meant you had to forgive a stranger for ruining your coat. Gretchen tried to apologize again, but the coffee woman was already gone.

Her friends pulled the barricade off of her, helped her up, and led her to the side of the street. She rooted around in her bag, hoping there was some sort of Handi Wipe in there, but all she found was a Snickers wrapper.

“You really bit it back there,” Billy said, laughing. Gretchen glared at him and he shrugged. “Sorry, but you know I think it’s funny when people fall.”

They stood together in one disheveled clump: Nancy’s hair was unbrushed, Billy was wearing a fedora with a neon leopard print, Ben had styled his hair in a faux hawk, and Gretchen had black streaks on her pants from the fall. They were the kind of people you avoided on the subway and the other protestors walking by gave them a wide berth. The coffee woman probably got away as fast as she could.

“I’m fine now,” she said to her friends. Her palms and knees burned.

“You’re bleeding,” Billy said, pointing to her hands.

She wiped her hands on her jeans while Billy, Nancy, and Ben stared at her. They were still on Forty-second and First, hadn’t even made it to the starting point. Pink pussy hats streamed by them; clever signs clipped the tops of their heads. “Are we going to do this?” Ben finally asked.

All morning, Nancy claimed she was having a panic attack. She said it again and then added, “I feel like my head is going to fall off my body.”

“It’s because you drank too much last night,” Gretchen explained.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” Nancy put her right hand on top of her head to make sure it stayed there.

“We could go to a diner,” Billy said. He took out a cigarette and lit it, making no effort to blow the smoke away from Gretchen’s face.

The night before, they’d played a show in the Village at a small bar that didn’t pay much but always gave them plenty of free drinks. The crowd was mostly NYU students, which made them drink more than they should’ve. Singing at twenty-year-olds would do that to you. Still. They had to go to the march. They were already there. They’d woken up early and made signs that said Nasty Women Make Herstory and My Pussy Grabs Back. They were ready to resist. But Gretchen’s knee was throbbing, it was chilly outside, and a diner grilled cheese sounded amazing.

They stood there, staring at one another, playing a game of lazy chicken and waiting for someone to make a decision. “You’re bleeding,” Billy said again. “And look at all these people. No one is going to miss us.”

They ended up walking uptown and away from the crowds, their signs by their sides as they wove around the people going in the right direction. They were fish going upstream. They were salmon swimming away from history.

Gretchen would never tell anyone why she missed the march. How could she ever explain it? “Oh,” she would say, “my friends and I tried to go, but one of them was too hungover to stand there and I’d just wiped out on the street and everyone else thought a diner seemed more pleasant than fighting for women’s rights. Yes, that’s right, we’re grown adults. Yes, we’re thirty-three years old.”

They were all in a band together. A ’90s cover band called Donna Martin Graduates that was wildly popular in the tri-state area. She and Nancy started out performing as a duo when they were still at NYU, Nancy playing the guitar while Gretchen sang all of their old favorites from junior high and high school—Britney Spears and Oasis and TLC and Alanis Morissette. They developed a loyal following at a local bar where they played each Wednesday, and that following kept growing.

They’d tapped into something—people nostalgic for the soundtrack of their breakups and crushes, for the songs they remembered from high school parties in basements with stolen beer. Whenever they did their rendition of “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes, the whole place sang and a few people got teary-eyed. (Sure they were drunk, but still.)

It was after one of these shows that Billy approached them, introduced himself, and suggested they get together with him and his friend Ben to form a proper band. Billy played the drums; Ben played the guitar. “Our sounds would work well together,” he said. “I think we can make something great.”

Billy kept talking, but it didn’t matter. He wore a leather jacket and his hair was just a little too long, so he kept brushing it out of his eyes. Gretchen and Nancy stared at him as he smoked his cigarette, extinguished it against the side of the building, flicked it into the street, and said, “We’ll be unstoppable.”

They were both already a little in love with him.

The band was an accident, really. None of them thought it would be as successful as it was. When they graduated, Nancy and Gretchen signed up with the same temp agency and rented a studio apartment to share. This would allow them to devote a year to the band, to see where things went.

The temp agency was low stakes. All they had to do was show up at the office they were assigned to and answer phones. Sometimes they had to order lunch. They were paid to be bodies in chairs, which is just what they wanted. They were almost always hungover and it never mattered. One day, Gretchen showed up wearing two different shoes and only noticed well into the afternoon. Another time, she woke up slightly tipsy and put on one of Billy’s button-downs that he’d left at their apartment. She belted it and put on flats and felt very fashion-forward and adorable as she left the house. By noon, when she’d sobered up, she realized she looked more like a half-dressed hooker.

All of this was fine because it was temporary. People didn’t expect much from them. It was just for the moment, this life of being twenty-two. Gretchen figured she’d eventually get a real job and this year would seem like a funny story that happened to someone else.

Except then, the band started to have steady gigs. They played all summer on the Jersey Shore and sold out the Knitting Factory. They started traveling to shows in DC and Philly. They befriended other famous cover bands like Super Diamond and the Brass Monkeys. They had groupies. The first time someone on the street recognized Gretchen and said, “Hey, I love you guys,” she almost passed out.

She and Nancy moved into an apartment with a real bedroom. They were making enough money that they stopped temping. A couple years later, Gretchen got her own place in Brooklyn and didn’t think twice about spending money on takeout five times a week. She and Billy started dating. By all accounts, she was doing great.

Whenever they were interviewed, Billy was the first to speak up about why the band focused on the ’90s, how he’d always known the fans would respond to the music of that era, how it was a simpler time when people weren’t obsessed with their phones.

It was only looking back that Gretchen realized what Billy had done, how he’d attached himself to their success and made it look like his own.

At the diner, they all ordered coffee. Gretchen took a sip of hers and felt a little ashamed. Her hands had stopped bleeding and barely hurt anymore. She could have made it to the march. It wasn’t like she needed a tourniquet. They’d given up so easily.

They were supposed to practice that afternoon for an upcoming wedding, but Billy suggested they just forget it and get some drinks.

“You guys.” Gretchen looked around, waiting for them to realize how lazy they were being. Ben stirred another creamer into his coffee and wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“I’m sick,” Nancy said.

“You’re hungover,” Gretchen said.

“It’s the same thing.”

“It’s really not.” Gretchen shook her head. It was a pointless argument. “We can’t cancel on the march and on practice.”

“But doesn’t a Bloody Mary sound good?” Billy asked. “We worked so hard last night.” He used his pleading voice and put his arm around her, pulling her close. None of them wanted to be scolded. None of them wanted to be reminded of all the things they weren’t doing.

“Fine,” she said. It didn’t matter if she put up a fight if she was just going to end up going along with the plan. It didn’t matter that she wanted the country to change if she wasn’t even willing to stand outside and hold a sign for a few hours.

They left their signs in the booth in the diner. The signs were wrinkled and sad and the one that said FEMINIST AF had a footprint on it.

Gretchen remembered the band in its prime, five years earlier when they were all important and young and elastic. They sold out show after show. They were going places. They stayed out all night and did lines in bathrooms like they were real rock stars. They were so sure they mattered.

The strangest thing was that they got older, but their fans stayed the same age. It was always the newly postcollege crowd that came to see them, eager for a night out in the city that was different from their usual bars. But it was disorienting to watch them now, how these twenty-three-year-olds sang along to “The Sign” by Ace of Base with such passion when they weren’t even born the year it came out. Even worse, ’90s fashion was coming back, so when Gretchen looked out at the crowd, she saw bodysuits and overalls. It confused her to sing to the fanny-pack-wearing people, “But where do you belong?”

Most of the “shows” they did now were weddings. The first time someone asked them to play one, they made a point of making fun of themselves. Now, it was how they made most of their money. “It’s not ideal,” Billy said once, “but it gives us more time for our own artistic pursuits.” By “artistic pursuits” Gretchen could only imagine he meant getting stoned and watching cartoons.

They all secretly preferred playing weddings. They got $15K to go to New Jersey or Long Island for the night and they didn’t have to worry about selling tickets or doing promotion. They were getting tired and this was easy.

With each year that went by, Gretchen had fewer marketable skills than the one before. The passing time was dangerous. Gretchen felt things closing in. It was one thing to start a new career at twenty-three or twenty-five or thirty, but now she had no idea what she would even do.

Sometimes Gretchen felt more temporary now than when she was an actual temp.

The week after the march, Gretchen’s schedule was wide open. She’d planned to deep clean her apartment and maybe write a new song, but instead she spent two days in the same pair of sweatpants eating falafel and hate-watching daytime talk shows. On Wednesday morning, she panicked and signed up for a barre class. When she arrived at the studio, she tried to squat and leg lift her way to feeling productive.

Afterward, she wandered around Prospect Park. One of the things she’d always loved most about New York was that she was never alone. Even on a weekday afternoon, the park was full. There were couples wandering around, babies bundled up in blankets, men with pink noses running by, grown women wearing winter hats with giant pom-poms, teenagers blowing vapor out of their mouths.

Gretchen had wild curly hair that always looked slightly windblown no matter what she did to it. When it was wet, it fell halfway down her back. When it was dry, it sat around her face like a halo. For years, Gretchen went to a special salon dedicated to curly hair, trying to tame it. But nothing ever helped, so now she let it live as it wanted to, fuzzy and free. Her niece told her she looked like a lion and Gretchen would’ve been offended except that Lauren said it with so much admiration, and also it was sort of true.

Billy once said, “If your face wasn’t so pretty, you could never pull off that hair.” It was the kind of compliment that was also an insult. The kind that Billy was so good at.

There were more people in the park than usual and Gretchen wondered what they were all doing out there. She wished one of them would ask her the same thing.

When Gretchen was in kindergarten, she developed a very sudden and intense fear of quicksand. She imagined being sucked away, no evidence left. She regarded each plot of grass with suspicion. She had the same feeling now when she walked around New York, like she could vanish and no one would notice. Like the city could swallow her whole.

Gretchen wandered until her sweat dried and curls started to spring from her hairline. She wandered until she couldn’t feel her toes. Then, because she couldn’t think of anything else to do, she went home.

Billy said, “You are becoming a miserable person.”

This was after she told him she didn’t want to go to a magic show. “I have edibles,” he said. “The answer,” she said, “is still no.” He narrowed his eyes and she went on. “I can’t think of anything I would rather do less,” she told him. “Except maybe have dinner with a clown.”

“You used to be a lot more fun,” Billy said. “I don’t know what happened to you.”

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