I am not lost…

April 27, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: FIRST YOU TRY EVERYTHING by Jane McCafferty

In my on-going challenge to actually read all the books I’ve bought over my time in the MFA program I studied in, I’m trying to mix them in with all the other books I’ve gotten. FIRST YOU TRY EVERYTHING is one of the first books I got at Carlow, after hearing McCafferty speak. After 3 years on my bookshelf, it’s about time that I took it down and read the darn thing.

The book follows the relationship between Evvie and Ben, who have been together through all kinds of hardships, through having nothing and being stable…and it’s starting to fade. Ben has found another woman who makes him think that maybe the love is gone with Evvie…and Evvie is convinced that she and Ben cannot possibly live apart from each other, and she’s bound and determined to prove this to Ben.

The narration of the book switches between Ben, trying to find his way and his heart again, and Evvie, desperately trying to hold onto the (possibly) only love she’s ever known. It’s heartbreaking to see the disparity between the two, and wonder how it’s all going to work out.

The trouble is, I feel like we’re meant to sympathize with Evvie. She’s trying so hard; she clearly loves Ben and just doesn’t quite know what’s happened or how to win him back. Ben isn’t being very forthcoming with information on what’s changed, so she has to go only on her intuition–which isn’t necessarily very accurate. And…I just…I don’t feel for her. Ben thinks she’s being crazy, and honestly, I’m inclined to agree with him. If any significant other I ever have acted like her, I’d run for the hills–change my phone number–possibly leave the state. Ben is much more accepting than I would be–and that’s not irrational of him, because there is still a piece of him that loves his wife, estranged though she may be.

The jacket blurb speaks to Evvie going to an incredible extreme, and “gambles on a spectacularly dangerous scheme, on that may ultimately have devastating consequences.” I’m sorry, if Evvie every truly expected her scheme to have a good outcome, she’s truly delusional. I enjoyed the process of watching the scheme come into play, and then be enacted, but knew deep down that if Ben ever knew she was behind it, it was the end of everything.

The book ends in the only fashion I could have seen coming, like a romantic comedy without the classic romcom denouement and resolution. Though I never expected any different, it makes the end of the book a fairly depressing end to a fairly depressing book, without a happy ending for much of anyone. I got done, set the book down, and said to those in the room with me, “Well, I’m done with that book.” My mother looked at me and said “Have you finished reading it? Or are you just done with it?”

And honestly, my answer was a bit of both.

The characters never truly grew from where they were at the end. An argument could be made for a change in Evvie but it’s not a significant enough one to warrant comment. Ben’s conclusion is…vague at best, and mostly spoken of in reading between the lines. (Like Molly. No explanation for Molly, despite several things in the rest of the book making her presence confusing.) And since no other character really plays a major part, we’re left with just that. The few sideline characters are either written out or diminished into footnotes, and the story concludes.

It reminds me too much of my complaints with THE GREAT GATSBY. The characters never really grow or learn, I find it difficult to sympathize with many of them, and the ending seems to fall a little flat–because the action of the story has required it to. What saves this book for me is that McCafferty is a phenomenal writer. Her way with words is immensely strong, and carries the reader through with a clear vision every step of the way. I could feel Ben’s struggle, Evvie’s desperation, the strain all of this puts between them. But I could also feel the love in the flashbacks to the happier times, and knew that it was real. It’s that kind of vivid writing that keeps me reading even when the plot baffles me.

The book will remain on my shelf, since I have a lovely inscription from McCafferty on it to inspire me. I just don’t know that I’ll ever read it again.

Rating: *** – Worth a Look

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