City Paper is not for tourists
The love story at the center of Evvie Drake Starts Over unfolds timidly in the wake of identity-destroying loss. For Evvie, the loss is her emotionally abusive high school sweetheart husband, Tim, who died in a car accident the night she finally dared to leave him. The novel opens on this scene—Evvie is tossing a suitcase and cash into her car when she gets the call that Tim has been in a crash. The rhythm of her life, formerly punctuated by the tense staccato of Tim’s anger and disapproval, goes silent.
Author Linda Holmes draws the dizzying stillness of depression with the fine point of someone who’s been there. Listeners of The Hilarious World of Depression podcast know that she has. And for listeners of Holmes’ podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour on NPR, the witticisms and references sprinkled liberally throughout Evvie Drake Starts Over will feel as familiar as Evvie’s old pilled sweater. But where Pop Culture Happy Hour moves at a joyful clip, the novel trails languidly through boggy grief, coming up for air with just enough frequency to still work as a summer beach read.
For former professional baseball player Dean, the loss is his ability to pitch. A mean case of “the yips” ended his career, and now he has to decide what’s next. Dean can’t throw a baseball and Evvie can’t reconcile with the memory of her dead husband, but Holmes’ measured and empathetic writing sets these two losses on equal footing. In a story rife with a variety of sorrows, Holmes never undermines characters’ suffering.
Evvie and Dean find themselves suffering in close quarters when their mutual friend Andy suggests that Dean wait out the media firestorm surrounding his forced retirement in Evvie’s spare apartment. Dean and Andy are childhood friends, and Evvie and Andy are present day best friends in small-town Maine. Andy and Evvie’s relationship toys with the classic When Harry Met Sally quandary: Can a straight man and a straight woman really be platonic friends? Evvie Drake Starts Over isn’t sure, but it helps when the male friend in question has a hot pro athlete friend who needs a place to stay for a few months.
Dean is about as dynamic as a blowup doll. He’s attractive, sure, and he checks every “good guy” box, but to borrow a favorite turn of phrase from the author herself, hoo boy howdy is he basic. This is what we know about Dean Tenney: He has an inspirational tattoo, drinks whiskey, covets pinball machines, loves his parents, keeps his nutritional supplements organized, and has also gone pro at disassociating from his emotions.
But Evvie doesn’t need spectacular; she craves normal and boring. Her artsy mother left when she was a kid, she raised herself while her dad manned a lobster boat for 12 hours a day, six days a week, and the wealthy, ambitious town hottie and eventual asshole doctor chose her against all odds before dying as dramatically as he lived. No wonder Evvie wants to lie down the whole book. She’s tired.
Evvie Drake Starts Over is ideal for equally world-weary readers who want to escape into a book that’s as easy to pick up as it is to put down.