First You Try Everything

First You Try Everything

This life-stopping novel by Jane McCafferty (a crackerjack of a writer) is billed as a book about divorce—a subject that's far too limited in scope to reflect what happens to the heroine, Evie, when her husband of 16 years, Ben, decides to leave her. This book is about heartbreak—as it happens to all of us, from Evie who tries to find salvation (or maybe just friendship) in the mysterious calm presences of a convenience store clerk, to Ben who can't reconcile his own life with his adulterous father's, to Lauren, the woman who comes between the two of them but who was also abandoned by her heroin-addicted parents, left in a booster seat at Denny's at age two. All of which should result in a sob-fest. Except that it doesn't.

McCafferty's gift is character, and she creates such singular, riveting personalities that you're laughing and puzzling out whole new understandings of the world (all while thinking, "ow"). Middle-aged Evie steals the show with her endearing oddball approach to existence which includes writing letters to Senators about animal cruelty that go: "Dear Senator, How are you, I'm OK though it's been raining for 8 days here" (letters which Ben describes so accurately as "like a kid at summer camp writing home to mom and dad.") Evie gets so happy that she jumps out of tree into a lake with joy—and breaks her legs. Evie gets so grim that she thinks "she needs an auditory shelter from the storm of her own thoughts."

She, like all the people in this book, is so unlike anyone you've ever met—or even just read about before—and her always unexpected turns of mind also creates turns in yours, leaving you with a fresh understanding of what we want love to mean, and what really love means, and what it really requires of us (most especially when it fails to turn out the way we'd hoped).

— Leigh Newman