First You Try Everything: A Novel by Jane McCafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: Prize-winning author Jane McCafferty delivers a wry, engrossing, and provocative tale of the radical chances an anguished woman will take to try to save her crumbling marriage. As love’s loss and the death of dreams push Evie to the edge of obsession and to a spectacularly outlandish scheme, one which will have unexpected consequences for all involved. Following her acclaimed debut novel One Heart, which Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle, calls "a lovely book, full of surprises, with characters that stay in your heart long after the book has been put down," McCafferty’s First You Try Everything is a piercing, surprising, and sympathetic look at the emotional fallout of divorce and the unforeseeable changing tides of love.
My take: I don't even know how to describe this book. The story is told from two different viewpoints. Actually, three because Apu gets a small part, as well. Ben and Evvie have been married for 16 years. Their history is quietly revealed but, essentially, Evvie is a quirky character very much in touch with her Freudian Id. She is endearing and at times frustrating. Yet she is very easy to relate to. She is insecure and feels her husband slipping away. She buries herself in animal rights activism while fighting the societal norms.
Ben was drawn to Evvie for her free spirit and easy way of relating to anybody. She listens to Ben and allows him his feelings. Together they were street vendors in order to stay free from the constraints of middle class. Eventually he found a middle class job and started wearing a suit. His eyes wander and he meets another woman who is completely different from his wife. He enjoys the conversation, the organized way of her life and emotions and allows himself to wander down that path.
The real meat of the story is the exploration by both parties of their emotional journey. Ben feels guilty and torn. He struggles with systematically painting his years with Evvie using the emotions of today then remembering how happy he felt in a certain situation with her. He also feels protective of Evvie from his new lover because he understands Evvie so well. At the same time, he doesn't want Evvie to know about the other woman in order to protect the current relationship, believing it has nothing to do with his cheating on his wife. He was unhappy before. His rationalizations are fascinating, infuriating, and sad. He makes valid points and the reader feels empathy for him to some degree.
Evvie, not knowing what unraveled the marriage, continues being her quirky self. Inside her head we see her wrestling with her feelings, her past, and possible reasons for the marriage problems. Again, the reader empathizes as the author articulates the confusion and the sudden interpretations from past events, coloring the previous 16 years. It is heart breaking and turns into a train wreck where I simply could not look away. Evvie's quirkiness, endearing at first, begins to slowly spiral into areas of insanity. It progresses logically (insanity and logically can be used in the same sentence) and it is evident why she desperately will do anything to get Ben to return to her.
There is an ultimate conflict and it is just the train wreck reaching maximum velocity and the situation gets out of control. Maybe a little on the ridiculous side and I was left wondering what happened to the other players but ultimately the real conflict was whether Evvie's pure soul could live with her manipulations. I wasn't crazy about the ultimate conflict or resolution. I found the story, itself, to be compelling. The author artistically articulates the feelings and thought processes of both parties of a middle-aged marriage.