First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 978-0-06-621062-9
Ben and Evvie have been together since college and married for many years. They are Bohemian kind of people; music is an important part of their lives, and they used to own a pushcart, from which they sold organic food.
Now in their early forties, Ben has an 'adult job' and wears a suit to work. Evvie volunteers at animal shelters and protests the war. She can't seem to get motivated to follow-through on anything. This marriage is on a collision course that Ben sees, but Evvie doesn't. Early on, Evvie is playing a song over and over again while Ben is trying to pay the bills. He asks her to turn it off, because he is "trying to get things in order." This is symbolic, as Ben is moving to get his life in order, but Evvie is happy just to do the same thing over and over again.
Ben tells Evvie he is leaving her, and she cannot comprehend what is happening. He has met a woman at work, and begins an emotional affair with her that turns physical once he leaves Evvie. Evvie can't accept that her marriage is over, and does crazy things to try and get Ben back, including dragging a ladder from her home to his new apartment and climbing in his bedroom window. She gets more and more desperate, and sets in motion a dangerous plan that threatens them both.
I didn't really like the characters in the story. I couldn't relate to Evvie at all; she seemed a bit crazy, and I understood why Ben wanted out. The story is told from alternating perspectives- Ben, Evvie, and for some reason, Ranjeev, the Indian man who works at the convenience store and whom Evvie is fascinated by, gets a chapter of his own. Some of the minor characters, friends of Ben and Evvie and Lauren, the woman Ben falls in love with, seemed more interesting to me than Ben and Evvie.
That said, the writing itself is elegant. I liked some of her observations, such as, "People forget that another person is a complete mystery...People start figuring each other out, solving them like a puzzle, then getting mad or bored. I mean, people should never be solved." A friend of Ben's talks about how difficult life with kids is by saying "let's just say I feel like most of me is shelved away at least half the time."
At one point, Evvie tries to face what has happened. "This is your life Evvie", and she froze in the rocking chair and understood that life had happened without her. She had somehow lived the life but had not been present for any of it, and now it was over. She rocked in grief that could not be contained by her body."
This is a sad book, about the end of a marriage between two people who loved but grew apart. If I had identified more with the characters, I probably would have felt more empathetic. I did like that the ending tied things up, showing us Ben and Evvie in the future.