Hope Springs Eternal In Linda Holmes’ Debut Novel About Second Chances
You don’t need to be a baseball fan or a romantic comedy aficionado to enjoy Evvie Drake Starts Over, out now from Ballantine Books. I’m sure it would help to be well-versed in fastballs and Julia Roberts, but one of the many joys of Linda Holmes’ debut novel is how easy it is to be won over by its charms.
As the book begins, Eveleth Drake (Evvie for short) is getting into her car to leave her husband when she receives word that he has just died in a car accident. In an instant, she goes from being stuck in an emotionally abusive marriage to being stuck playing the part of a widow in her sleepy seaside town.
A year later, Evvie is coping with her guilt over her lack of grief as much as she’s mourning the loss of her husband. She’s got her best friend Andy and the rest of her family to help out, but she’s just as trapped as a widow as she was as a wife.
Enter Dean Tenney, former Yankees pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend. Ever since he came down with a career-ending case of the “yips,” Dean has been looking to lay low for a while and get out of New York. With nowhere else to go as the baseball season comes to a close, Dean rents Evvie’s guest apartment, on Andy’s recommendation.
What starts out as a transactional relationship between two broken people quickly turns into a friendship based on two rules: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s dead husband, and Evvie won’t ask Dean about his failed pitching career. But rules were meant to be broken, and broken people need to heal, and anyone who’s seen a romcom could tell you what happens next. But like the vivid characters she creates, Holmes breaks a lot of romcom rules on her way to delivering this book’s satisfying conclusion.
“Evvie Drake” is about the romance between Evvie and Dean, sure, but it’s also a beautiful celebration of the worth of giving second chances to yourself and others. The romance is top-notch, with a realistic meet-cute, lots of smoldering looks, pent-up sexual tension, overt gestures and flirtatious banter (Holmes has a natural ear for dialogue, which makes sense, her being an NPR host and all). But about halfway through the book, it becomes clear Holmes is more concerned with Evvie and Dean dealing with themselves and picking up the pieces of their shattered lives. If they end up together, great, but Holmes never writes the romantic relationship to be more important than the characters’ personal growth as they move away from issues like emotional abuse and codependency. She allows ample space for every complicated character, even the supporting ones, to grow and to deal with their own issues with grace.
And these characters abundant grace in these pages, which is refreshing in a genre known for its broad and fixed stereotypes. There are no heroes or villains in this story, there are only people doing the best they can.
But that doesn’t mean “Evvie Drake” is a serious affair. For a book about “a widow and a head case,” as Holmes describes the two main characters, there’s plenty of joy and jokes and laughter.
If that isn’t enough, Holmes’ prose is insightful, her dialogue is genuine, and her description of Maine is enough to make you want to move to the East Coast and live in an apartment by the sea. I couldn’t put this book down and now I wish I had never read it so I can experience reading it for the first time again. “Evvie Drake” is a charming delight, and a standout debut from Linda Holmes.
(Ballantine Books, June 25, 2019)