Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

In First You Try Everything we look inside the marriage of Ben and Evvie and see a deteriorated union in which Ben and Evvie have grown apart even though Evvie is now clinging desperately to their marriage. Despite all signs to the contrary, Evvie believes their marriage is salvageable and she is determined to do everything in her power to hold on to Ben. But their marriage is built on an unsteady foundation - both Ben and Evvie come from troubled childhoods and are somewhat broken - the resulting cracks begin to show themselves as their marriage unravels. Evvie pushes herself and Ben to dangerous lengths in trying to save their marriage - "First You Try Everything" goes way beyond how most couples endeavor to save their marriage.

Evvie and Ben met in college and married young - their early relationship is marked by their need to be together to the exclusion of others. They are one of those couples with only eyes for each other to the point where they are isolated from friends and family - they only need each other. Perhaps their difficult childhoods draw them together and drive them to seek solace in each other. Both Evvie and Ben are passionate about their ideals as a young married couple. Ben eschews the tyranny of a 9-5 job and corporate attire while Evvie protests the mistreatment of animals and refuses to eat meat.

When we meet them at the beginning of the book, however, they are a couple in middle age who have been through the trials of life including a struggle with infertility. Ben has definitely grown away from his ideal young self and finds he is drawn to convention, even energized by being part of the hustle and bustle of rush hour enroute to work in his suit. He is frustrated by the fact that Evvie clings to him and in his eyes, she has evolved little since their early days together. Meanwhile, Evvie is relatively unchanged and her passion and idealism has even taken on a tinge of obsession. She seems to hang onto her old self very desperately and the more Ben pulls away the more Evvie tries to reclaim who she was and what they had. Evvie is unraveling and her judgement is clearly compromised.  

My Thoughts
At the start of this book, I was unsure about it - I had trouble relating to Ben and Evvie and their entire lives, from the dull gray of the Pittsburgh sky to their ordinary, unhappy lives, seemed grim. But as the story progressed, told alternately from Ben and Evvie's perspectives, I became drawn in by their complex, flawed characters. The author does an excellent job of building these characters from their troubled childhoods to their complicated adulthood so that although I really couldn't relate to them I did become fascinated by them. Both Evvie and Ben are flawed and I found there was no obvious "bad guy" in this relationship - despite Evvie's becoming unhinged, Ben tempers his frustration with compassion. In much the same way, Evvie tries to understand Ben's distance. In addition to the character development, the writing is beautiful and I found myself struck by many passages. If you are looking for a psychological journey into a marriage with a complex husband and wife, I recommend this novel.

I reviewed this book as part of TLC Tours - you can check out the reviews of others on the tour here. The book seems to have elicited strong reactions so I encourage you to check out the reviews!

 I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review


  1. Your review is the first I've read on this book. I received a copy and have been curious, as it doesn't seem to be one I would choose on my own.

  2. Wow, poor Evvie! The book sounds fascinating!

  3. I've never heard of this book before, but it sounds interesting!

  4. I love the cover, but the plot summary is really not speaking to me right now.

  5. Something about this book speaks to me. I guess being married for 10 years makes you want to read books about marriages. Love that cover too.

  6. I love the cover art but the plot doesn't grab me. Still, I appreciate your review. You've introduced me to a lot of new books.

  7. For me it is sometimes the characters that I don't understand at all that intrigue me the most. Sounds like that might be the case for me with Ben and Evvie!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  8. Nice review! I was drawn to the cover art, but really had a hard time relating to these characters.