Sunday, November 3, 2019

Review: Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake lives a life of layers, mostly hidden from everyone — including herself. She is a local, the wife of a beloved local doctor, the daughter of an adoring lobsterman, and the best friend to Andy. (Some may say "too" best.)

But she is none of these. She is a woman who, when she finds the strength to do what's right, receives an awful gift that takes away her power and replaces it with something insidious: expectation.

Linda Holmes' amazing, compelling, and powerful novel Evvie Drake Starts Over shows readers how someone can evolve from what she was into what she intended to be all along — with a little unexpected help from unexpected people in her life.

Evvie (which rhymes with "Chevy") has taken the literal first step to leaving her life when she gets a surprise phone call from the hospital where her husband works. She isn't leaving after all.

As Evvie rattles around her huge house in her hometown, trying to avoid well-meaning people who want to help her mourn her loss, she is stuck. Her late husband is beloved as the local kid who made good and came home to serve his community. Only Evvie knows how different his public and private personae were — and readers discover it as Evvie herself has the courage to think about it.

Along comes Dean Tenney, a former major league baseball pitcher drummed off the diamond and retreating to his hometown. Evvie's best friend Andy proposes a win-win: Dean moves into Evvie's adjacent apartment to get away from prying eyes while Evvie gets some company (and a little cash). Dean and Evvie agree to two things: he will live there for a short time, and they won't talk about their elephants in the room.

Evvie's commits small (and not so small) acts of deception, whether it's telling people what they want to hear or not admitting to unhappiness while living in a perfect life. Or just not saying anything at all. And readers very well may understand: Whether we doubt ourselves or the support we may (or may not) receive, whether we feel believed or even seen, we have the ability to cover up so many things. Evvie is a Master Illusionist, with the willful ignorance of those around her, and her life could have continued with dishes she didn't want in a house she didn't want and the (late) husband who also was a Master Illusionist. I totally bought Evvie's angst: she could't come clean, but she couldn't live with the image — so she just limped along and hid as much as possible.  Linda Holmes captured Evvie's situation with compassion and honesty.

Even better than the build-up was the resolution. Evvie found an unexpected ally. Could this friend provide enough support to coax Evvie out of her non-life? Help her dispatch her demons? Could Evvie find her way back to herself? Could she discover the courage to build the life she wanted and adjust the relationships in her life to be more honest and meaningful? 

At every turn, Evvie's cast of characters were rich and robust, fairly portrayed, and compassionately developed. I liked Evvie and ached for her hidden pain. I liked Dean, a decent and honest man who needed to be told that he asked for things in ways he didn't realize. I liked Andy, despite the unbalanced (and surprisingly unhealthy) relationship. 

I recommend this book. It's full of surprises, and chances are readers may see themselves occasionally. Maybe some of Evvie's courage will rub off on, or at least spark awareness. And if not, it's still an enjoyable debut novel.

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