First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

Friday, March 2, 2012


First You Try Everything
"Did you know both Kline and Nora think we'll get back together? Since we're the best-friend type who crack each other up?" She was out of breath. "And that Nora has always envied us? And can see us canning peaches when we're eighty?"

"People think things."
"Ah, yeah, they do."

"People like to stand on the sidelines with their theories. I've done it myself. It's mostly bullshit."

"And sometimes on the sidelines you can see better than if you're playing the game. Sometimes you have a vision of two old happy people canning peaches, and you trust it."

Evvie and Ben had been drawn to each other from their college days, thanks to their similar dysfunctional childhoods and feelings of isolation. For years after they got married, they were figuring out their lives together and earned their living pushing pushcarts. A few years ago however, they closed their business and Ben took work as a regular employee, wearing office clothes and walking the streets like other workers as he headed to work. Ever since Ben "figured out" his life, Evvie has been feeling detached and scared. Her obsession with animal welfare - doing protest marches and talking about it every so often to whoever is listening to her - is driving Ben crazy. Until one day he decides to leave her. This decision however causes Evvie to unravel. Unable to handle the separation, she persists in begging Ben to stay back, climbs into his new apartment and tries to seduce him back, and keeps ringing him up to ask him how his day is going and when he is coming back. Until one day, she sees Ben with his new girlfriend (of whom she wasn't aware). A dangerous plan forms in her mind - even at this point, she would try anything to get Ben back.

Jane McCafferty
When I first came across the premise of this book, I was intrigued. I love heavy-character-focused books, especially when the characters are more gray-shaded than neutral. Most of the books I had read about relationships focused more on the waning of affections and the eventual separation of the couple. The idea of one of the spouses willing to go to any extent to save that relationship was what intrigued me here.

I however didn't relate to any of the characters. Both Ben and Evvie were very flawed and felt highly immature to me. Evvie was childish most of the time and her stubbornness would probably look better on a ten-year old. Although I tried to respect her for who she was, it was hard work - she could sense Ben's drifting away from her, but she made it still harder by rambling about disparate stuff. Ben, on the other hand, wasn't putting any effort into trying to save his marriage. His affair with a divorced woman, Lauren, was only complicating matters. Believing himself deserving of a more fulfilling life, he was more than willing to break off with Evvie and start a relationship with Lauren. I wasn't exactly convinced by his reasoning. Most of his time after the separation he spent comparing Lauren to Evvie and feeling nostalgic about his life with Evvie. In addition, Lauren also didn't feel real to me - she popped up in my mind as a caricature of a nimble exuberant woman.

Despite the faulty characters, I did find it hard to put down this book. Jane McCafferty's writing was the main strength of this book for me. And the more I read, the more I began to feel that I was not expected to like any of these characters. Both Ben and Evvie made mistakes and just as it was almost impossible relating to Evvie, it was hard sympathizing with Ben. Although, I did feel sorry for Evvie. Despite her grating whining, it was clear that she needed help.

I enjoyed the way the two characters developed through the book. I still didn't like either of them, but it got easier reading about them. Once I got past Evvie's childish behavior, I found her to be a very complicated character. Her reaction to their separation felt very vivid and it was fascinating seeing how her plan affects her - how it makes her see things in a different light. The plan in itself wasn't realistic, but then I didn't expect it to be, seeing as how she is presented as being willing to go to any extent. Ultimately, although the book was a quick read and an intriguing one as well, I felt the somewhat weak characters and the plot brought down my enjoyment.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.


16 comments:

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I don't have to like characters to like a book.  This one sounds intriguing to me.

zibilee said...

I have been seeing a lot of reviews about this book, and have been more than a little curious about it. It seems like a very different sort of relationship book, but I am not sure that I would like the characters, which is critical to me in a book like this one. I do really appreciate your balanced and fair review, and am still going to read this one, but I think I will now being going into it with my eyes more fully opened.

Jenna (Literature and a Lens) said...

Definitely agree with your review. One of my problems with this one was the way Evvie's character was developed. Like you mention, so many of her attributes seemed quite childish and cliche. Not necessarily a bad thing, but when layered as they were I felt she came across as more of a caricature than a real woman dealing with the pain of the situation.

BuriedInPrint BuriedInPrint said...

I think the most memorable novels are often the ones with the least immediately-likeable characters; this aspect of this novel really intrigues me. 

Helen Murdoch said...

It's always a strange feeling to dislike the characters in the book but to quite enjoy the book anyway. I'm glad the writing was so good that it kept you going and interested

Ti said...

I think when you are desperate and grasping as straws, immaturity often rears its head. I've seen this with friends who have gotten a divorce recently and although they were both, mature and reasonable for the most part, when they got desperate with trying to save the marriage or the horrendous custody battle that ensued, they became 4 year olds. 

My thought here is that the desperation didn't come through clearly here and that is why the rest of it was hard to swallow. 

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Sometimes I find myself MORE drawn to a story in which I don't like characters - in a perverse way I want to see what is going to happen to them in the end. :)

I'm sorry this one didn't turn out to be exactly your cup of tea but we appreciate you sharing your thoughts on it for the tour.

Athira / Aths said...

I did like the theme of this book, so you may enjoy it. I just found the characters cartoonish, otherwise it was a riveting read.

Athira / Aths said...

You said it perfectly. I would be okay with unlikable characters, but I wished they were more realistic.

Athira / Aths said...

I don't either. I just wished they were more realistic.

Athira / Aths said...

The writing was definitely a plus. Despite how much the characters bothered me, I was glad the book was engrossing. 

Athira / Aths said...

That is what I felt. I could understand Evvie's immaturity and her desperation, but her personality even after accounting all that felt way too childish to me. It was as if I couldn't understand how she and Ben got together even.

Athira / Aths said...

Spot on! I end up remembering better the books with faulty characters than those that were perfect!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks for having me on the tour! Despite how much I was bugged by this title, I appreciated reading it. It was engrossing, and the writing was great. 

Niranjana Iyer said...

I empathize with your ambivalence. I read somewhere that readers increasingly demand "uplift" from their books, but really, if books are to reflect life, which is infinitely more messy, it doesn't work that way. So I can see this book as a very good piece of writing which doesn't necessarily endear itself to the reader.  I have to say, I do  find it challenging to review such books!

Jenny said...

I just read The Odds and felt the same as you described this one... the writing was good but the characters irritated me. I feel like I've read a lot of books recently where the characters seem immature, LOL.