The podcast NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour is one of my favorite podcasts and it’s hosted by Linda Holmes, who just happens to be the author of this book. She mentioned it briefly on PCHH and one of her co-hosts wanted to talk about it in their “What’s Making Me Happy” section, but couldn’t because it wasn’t out yet. Then she went on Nerdette, which is another of my favorite podcasts, to promote her book and I got all excited for it and ordered the audiobook from my library.
The audiobook is narrated by Julia Whelan, who apparently is also friends with the author, which is pretty cool. I’ve listened to a couple other audiobooks narrated by her, and I like her work.
Evvie Drake Starts Over is about Evvie Drake, and in case you were wondering, her first name is pronounced Eh-vee as in Chevy, not Ee-vee. Evvie is short for Eveleth, which is the town in Minnesota where her mom was from. As Evvie puts it, she was named for her mom’s unhappiness.
Well, apparently unhappiness runs in the family, because despite the appearance of “having it all” Evvie is about to leave her husband when we meet her. Her bags are packed, she has a wad of cash in the glove box, and she’s getting ready to leave for good when she gets a call from the hospital that her husband has been in an accident. By the time she gets to the hospital, he’s already dead, and Evvie is consumed with guilt for not missing her husband.
To make matters worse, no one knows how much she isn’t grieving. To them, her husband, Tim, was pretty much perfect and so they all assume that he and Evvie had a perfect marriage, but that’s only because no one talks about the bad stuff. The reality is that Tim was a spoiled manchild who always had to be right and have his own way and he would gaslight Evvie by trying to make her believe they had never had that conversation or that he hadn’t thrown the glass on the kitchen floor.
Any time Evvie tries to point out his own behavior to him, he tells her to “stop being so dramatic” and what woman hasn’t heard that one several times in her life? Evvie is careful to point out that Tim never hit her or anything, but he did inadvertently cause her physical harm at least twice and then denied it. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy, which is why Evvie is packing up the car when she gets the fateful phone call.
Evvie’s best friend, Andy, is a divorcé and single dad to two small girls. His wife up and left a few years ago, leaving him with their two daughters, and it turns out Evvie’s mom just left one night with nothing more than a note on her husband’s dresser explaining why she had left. She turns up in Evvie’s life every so often, but doesn’t bother coming to visit for the big events, like her wedding or her husband’s funeral. So there’s a theme of women leaving their husbands in this book, which you wouldn’t think would make for a great setting for a romance, but Evvie and Dean manage to work it out.
Dean Tenney is a professional pitcher for the New York Giants who got something called the “yips”. It’s a thing that happens to some baseball players where all of the sudden they can’t throw the ball to where it needs to go. There’s no physical or mental reason anyone has been able to find for why this should happen. They’re perfectly competent pitchers one day, and the next they’re being booed off the field.
The yips hit Dean at about the same time Tim died (although he doesn’t know that). Turns out Dean and Andy grew up together, and when Dean mentions he needs a place to get away from it all for a while, Andy mentions that Evvie has a spare apartment in her house and that she could use the rent money because Tim didn’t have any life insurance. Evvie is having trouble paying the bills without a doctor’s paycheck, so she accepts the arrangement, and of course that’s how the two of them get set up (not that Andy is intentionally trying to set them up).
Because so little is known about the yips and there’s no physical cause for it, there’s a lot of misunderstanding around it. Dean gets called “a headcase” a lot and told he just needs to buck up and focus. Of course, the poor guy has tried everything from therapy and chiropractics to meditation and acupuncture. He has seen every quack who told him they could help him and none of them succeeded. Meanwhile, he’s still recognized (and ridiculed) everywhere he goes in New York, which is why he’s temporarily moving to a small town in Maine.
Dean and Evvie strike up a friendship almost as soon as he moves in, and that friendship quickly blossoms into romance. She confesses her husband was an asshole and that, when he died, she was getting ready to leave him. She also admits that he did have life insurance, but she feels so guilty that she can’t bring herself to spend it.
Even Andy doesn’t know any of this. Tim had told her not to talk to Andy about their marriage, so she didn’t. He was there for her in the best way after Tim died, but the whole time, she wasn’t grieving her dead husband, she was mentally beating herself up for getting ready to leave her husband while he was dying. In the course of the book, Andy finds out the truth and confronts Evvie, who admits to everything. He says he’s OK with it, but he’s really not. He cancels their Saturday morning breakfasts together because he’s “busy” and when they finally do get together, he brings his new girlfriend, Monica, who’s wonderful, but it means their breakfast isn’t really their breakfast anymore.
Eventually, their pent-up feelings of resentment explode into a huge drunken fight. By the end of the book, they’ve mostly patched things up, but their relationship will never be the same.
Throughout all this, Dean is still struggling with the yips. He says he’s over it and ready to move on, but Evvie sees him throwing pine cones against a fence and taking baseballs out to the local baseball field in the middle of the night. She decides to try to help, so she has him teach her how to pitch, then she arranges for him to pitch an inning with the local minor league team for the Spring Dance. That goes well, but he’s not exactly pitching against major league players. But the video of him pitching goes up on YouTube and pretty soon he’s being contacted by major league teams to try out for them. That doesn’t go well, and when Evvie starts talking about what they can do next, he says enough is enough. He accuses her of pushing too hard and reopening this old would of his when he’s just trying to get on with his life (even though, as previously mentioned, he was the one who kept throwing things in the middle of the night).
So Dean moves back to New York, Evvie sells her house, buys a smaller house by the water, gets a dog, and starts seeing a therapist. Her mom tries to pop back into her life at this point, but she has a lot going on, and as Monica points out, there’s no reason Evvie’s mom should always be the one to decide when they get together. If it’s not a good time for Evvie, she has the right to set those boundaries and she does.
As someone who just lost my mom earlier this year, I have mixed feelings about this. I’m very fortunate that I had an awesome mom and we spent a lot of time together, so I don’t really have any regrets. But it has made me very aware of the fact that we never have as much time with our loved ones (especially the older generation) as we think we will, So when Evvie says her mom is still her mom and she doesn’t want to have any regrets, there’s something to be said for that. On the other hand, if her mom can’t be bothered to come to her daughter’s wedding or even her son-in-law’s funeral, then she’s not much of a mom and she hasn’t earned the right to decide when she sees her daughter.
I think a lot of Evvie’s unhappiness goes back to the fact that her mom left her when she was a child. I don’t think she ever really recovered from that trauma and I think a lot of her feelings of being unworthy of love and happiness stem from that. Of course, it doesn’t help that her husband treated her like shit, but it might help explain why she decided to marry the asshole.
Back in New York, Dean’s parents point out that maybe trying to get back into baseball had not been all Evvie’s idea and that maybe he had misread the whole situation, so of course he comes back and they make up. By that time, he has a coaching job in New York that he loves and Evvie is working as a transcriber for clients she likes while also working in an office part time to help pay the bills, so there’s a question of where they should live, but I appreciate that this book makes it clear that Evvie doesn’t need a man to love her in order to be happy. They’re both happy on their own, they’re just happier when they’re together.
I also love the shout outs to public radio that are sprinkled in a couple places throughout the book. Knowing that Holmes works in public radio, it’s nice to see a few shout outs to her day job and how I originally got to know about her and this book.
What did you read/listen to this week? Anything else by someone you first stumbled across for something other than their writing?