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Losing (and regaining) control – ‘Evvie Drake Starts Over’

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It’s that time of year when everyone is on the lookout for their next summer read. And what could be better for a summer read than a story that involves the summer game?

Linda Holmes – perhaps best known as the host of NPR’s excellent “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast – has written her first novel. Titled “Evvie Drake Starts Over” (Ballantine Books; $26), it’s the story of two people, each lost in their own way, finding solace in one another’s unexpected company – solace that begins as friendship, but gradually develops into something else.

It’s a charming and engaging story that also proves willing to look at loss and how that can mean different things to different people. The way we mourn – and what we choose to mourn – can vary wildly. Sometimes we wish to be helped. Sometimes we wish to be held. And sometimes, we simply wish to be left alone.

Evvie Drake lives in a small town on the Maine coast. She’s a widow, having lost her husband to a tragic accident nearly a year ago. But while she has rambled around her big empty house, she’s been keeping a secret. What everyone else sees as grief, Evvie knows to be guilt. No one knows the truth, not even her best friend Andy. Only she knows how rocky her marriage was. And only she knows that she was in her car with a packed bag, ready to leave her husband, when she received the tragic call.

Dean Tenney has lost something too. The New York Yankees star is suffering from a case of the dreaded yips – he has simply lost the ability to throw strikes. He’s tried everything he can think of, on both the physical and mental sides. He’s just lost it, much to the full-throated dismay of the notoriously level-headed New York sports fandom. He needs to get away from it all, go somewhere where he can simply be and not be confronted with his failure on a daily basis.

And so Dean, who grew up with Andy, winds up at Evvie’s door inquiring about the attached apartment that she has made available to rent. In need of money, she takes in the lodger.

The rules between the two are simple: Evvie doesn’t want to talk about her husband and Dean doesn’t want to talk about baseball. From there, a friendship begins to flower … and to bloom into something altogether unexpected.

But while the present has its appeal, the reality is that both Evvie and Dean are going to have to reckon with the ghosts of their respective pasts for there to be any real chance of a future going forward. And in dealing with these shadows, some hard truths are going to be revealed – truths that may impact not just their relationship with one another, but their relationships with those close to them.

“Evvie Drake Starts Over” is a story of moving on and moving forward. It is a story of what it means to allow yourself to love. It is about the fear and the strength that comes from letting yourself to be vulnerable. It is about forgiving your flaws and allowing them to be forgiven. It’s about losing control, whether figuratively (Evvie) or literally (Dean). It’s about knowing what’s wrong but having zero idea how to fix it.

There’s a wonderful juxtaposition at play here. On the one hand, we have Evvie, who has lost a husband, yet feels more guilt than grief. She regrets her relative lack of regret; she’s sorry about not being sorry enough. On the other, we have Dean, whose loss is less tangible yet arguably more personally impactful – he has lost something that has almost completely defined him for his entire life.

First and foremost, this is a love story. This is about two people drawn together by a mutual desire to be left alone, which sounds oxymoronic, but makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Like seeks out like, and both of these people are wounded in ways that few others will understand … but they understand each other. Not totally, mind you – each makes their share of questionable choices – but enough. Enough to find solace in their shared company.

It should be noted that this is a debut novel from Holmes, although it certainly doesn’t read like one. There’s a smoothness to the storytelling that is a great pleasure to read, a gentle persistence of plot that bears the reader forward with deceptive speed – it’s the sort of book that you might read cover-to-cover in a single sitting if you’re not careful. The characterizations feel very full; Evvie and Dean are well-realized in ways both large and small. Oh, and it’s pretty damned funny in stretches too.

(It should also be noted that while there's not a ton of actual baseball or baseball-adjacent stuff here, what there is is actually really good. Holmes has an obvious affection for the game to go with a solid understanding of it. In the moments when Dean throws, we feel what he feels in a fundamental way, good and bad.)

“Evvie Drake Starts Over” is an ideal summer read, the sort of breezy book that offers strong relationships and compelling characters while also providing a fluid narrative flow. Few things are as captivating as love born from loss; this book offers that and more. If this is how Holmes begins her career as a novelist, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 July 2019 22:49

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