First You Try Everything

By Jane McCafferty

(HarperCollins, $24.99, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Stewart O’Nan’s not the only interesting writer from Pittsburgh. Meet Jane McCafferty, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, whose new novel is “First You Try Everything,” but might have been titled “What We Do for Love.”

She’s also the author of the novel “One Heart” and two story collections, “Thank You for the Music” and “Director of the World and Other Stories,” which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her other honors include an NEA Award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award and Pushcart Prizes for her fiction and non-fiction.

What is this book about?

“First You Try Everything” is the frequently amusing yet often sad story of what happens when one member of an intense, “you and me against the world” kind of couple begins to grow distant, bored and, some would say, up, while the other desperately wants to keep things just the way they are and always have been.

Ben and Evvie have been together since college: running a food truck, eating vegan, sharing a passion for music, championing the rights of animals and generally taking the offbeat path through life. Part of their closeness as a married couple comes from each having suffered a terrible childhood. But Ben, unexpectedly discovering a hankering for a more conventional life, takes a job that requires wearing a suit and  moves out  – and then in, with another woman.

Evvie is dumbstruck, devastated and determined to get him back, at any cost. Always kind of ditzy, in a way Ben once found charming, she rapidly becomes seriously disturbed and hatches a very ill-considered plot that she thinks will bring her one true love back to her. But you know what they say about best-laid plans.

Why you’ll like it:

This is a story of what it feels like to lose the kind of love you thought would last forever, and what that kind of loss can do to someone who is emotionally fragile to begin with. While most readers would not go to the lengths that Evvie does, they will be able to relate to the desperation that drives her. 

Here’s what McCafferty told a Carnegie Mellon interviewer about why she wrote the book:

“I wanted to study heartbreak, and how the grief of heartbreak can feel like a form of madness. I was also interested in exploring how two point of view characters can amplify and contradict each other’s stories.”

So she tells her story through both Evvie and Ben, a counterpoint that reveals their increasingly different perspectives on the same situations. And though it becomes clear that Evvie has become delusional, by putting the readers inside her world of hurt, McCafferty gives her illogical behavior a kind of crazy logic of its own.

What others are saying:

“[A] deeply moving portrait of the dissolution of a marriage . . . [with] heartrending scenes illuminating the pain of separation, both for the one leaving and the one left,” says Booklist.

“[An] evocative read. . . . A gimlet-eyed story of divorce and love, which bristles with pain and beauty. . . . Set amid the gritty splendor of Pittsburgh, the novel masterfully conveys both the youthful love that Ben and Evvie once shared and why it has fizzled,” says Marie Claire.

“[A] sensitive, offbeat second novel. . . . [that] offers some nicely observed insights into guilt and despair . . . until heartbreak and delusion lead to an act of lunacy that will redefine the landscape. Everyday tragedy takes a surreal spin in this . . . soulful, idiosyncratic tale,” says Kirkus.

“McCafferty’s second novel coins its own brand of heart-searing suspense. . . . Fans of Anne Tyler, Jacquelyn Mitchard and other top-drawer domestic fiction writers will enjoy this unpredictable, offbeat novel,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

It is on the shelves at the Blue Hills, Goodwin and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pickup at the downtown library as well.

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