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willemite

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First You Try Everything: A Novel - Jane McCafferty In the film, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Nathan Jessup, barks at the courtroom, “You can’t handle the truth.” If you can’t handle some truth about marriage, then First You Try Everything is not the book for you.

Evvie Muldoone is a happy-go-lucky sort, a free spirit, a person with a huge heart, but maybe not the best focus. She experiences great pain and great love, is eager to defend our feathered friends from the horrors of foi gras, and meat animals from their factory hellholes. She is an innocent. She is also a bit paranoid. Of course sometimes you are not paranoid enough. She senses something is up with her husband, Ben, and begins taking measures. A bear hug she used to give him when they were new, playing music that recalled their first days together, telling him things like “everything is going to be beautiful with us.” It isn’t.

Ben is dissatisfied, feels trapped, and despite his love for Evvie, and the weight of memory their years together have accrued, he is preparing to move on. He is no longer ok with making a meager living selling middle eastern food from a pushcart. He wants a 9 to 5 life. He wants to wear a suit to work. He wants a normal partner to come home to, someone whose idea of supper is a perfectly made rosemary chicken, not a banana dipped in peanut butter. Ben is not a monster.

On page 1, Evvie recalls a favorite song, 5 Days in May. I included the full lyric at the bottom of this review. None of it appears in the book. I had to wonder if the song had been one of the inspirations for this novel. One piece of it in particular
But I know my past
You were there
In everything I've done
You are the one
flows through the novel, as Ben, in particular, keeps thinking about their past, recalling many joyful moments he and Evvie had shared. Moving on is not an easy process for Ben, not at all a black-or-white, but it is well past middle-gray.

The book is set up as, mostly, alternating chapters, Ben’s and Evvie’s, and offers us both perspectives on the potential end of their marriage. I went into the book expecting that Evvie would be cool and Ben would be a stick in the mud, but McCafferty treats both her characters, and their perspectives with respect.

Speaking of characters, I found the supporting cast a bit thin. Ben’s new girlfriend, Lauren, seemed to me a bit too lightly drawn, although she does share a tale from her past that puts her childhood into the same class of screwed-up-edness as both Ben’s and Evvie’s. Rocky and Bruno, two questionable characters, who propose an unusual method to Evvie for trying to win back her man, work effectively as comic relief. Evvie’s brother, Cedrick, serves a purpose, but we do not get to know him particularly well. But then, they are secondary.

For many of us who have been through a divorce, so much of the emotional content of this novel rings true. I know I felt both Evvie’s desperation and Ben’s unhappiness. When I was trying to prevent, then survive the breakup of my first marriage, I did not break down quite so much as Evvie, although I too suffered unfortunate symptoms that bled out into the real world. How many people who have been married for a long time harbor no reservoir of unhappiness? Ben deceives Evvie, but the deception is the endpoint, not the cause.
“ but even before Lauren, he reminded himself, he’d looked across the table that last year with Evvie, as if she were light years away. He’d been dying of loneliness and now said as much…”
Ben would not be the first person to have had an eye out for a place to land when jumping out a marriage. Evvie deceives Ben in attempting to keep their marriage together, rather dramatically.

People do grow apart, change, find that they want things now that they did not want then, grow dissatisfied, with their lives, with their partners. And in the 21st century, we have the option to make a change.
“It’s terrible, what you’re going through. All you young people. In my day, you got married, you stayed married, that was that. My husband and I didn’t expect life should be so fun. Now it’s everybody has to have their fun.” She sipped her own glass of wine, which was leaving a purple mustache on her face. “And all the rush, rush, rush. Where do people think they are going?” Evvie took another sip and sighed. “I don’t know.” “Six feet under.”
A lot is made, appropriately, of the element of accumulated time in relationships.
Ben understood that the house of childhood cast a spell, gave her a form of multiple personality disorder, rendered her all the ages she had ever been inside of its walls. Without him, how was she to navigate the collision of selves? He’d seemed to love those selves, had lifted photographs out of albums and taken them for his own possessions: a picture of her when she was a fat, bald baby: her second-grade school picture where she’d tried to look like she had extreme buckteeth like her friend Kenny Walters, who kept mice in a Barbie castle; and a photograph of her fourteen-year-old self in black cowboy boots, holding her pet rabbit, Zorro. Ben had framed this last one. Now it seemed to her he’d rejected not just the self she was now, but all those other people too. The ones whose ghosts still haunted the old house.
Those old selves are always lost when the newer ones are discarded. Later, after remembering some of his history with Evvie
“We’re gonna have a lot of good years together,” he said, a pressure in his chest rising up into his throat. “A lot of good years.” He wished they would hurry up, those years, and get behind him and Lauren. A history to lean on. Filled with memories of rooms where they’d made love, or cried, or laughed until they cried. They hadn’t done that yet—laughed until they cried. They needed more rooms.
My fingers were kept dancing typing in the many passages in the book that spoke to me, so many that I have slapped on the end of this what I did not use in the body of the review. You might want to wait until you read the book, as the material is slightly spoiler-ish

Imagery flutters in here and there, but this is not a book that I found to be heavily weighted with lit-fic technique. It is about the possible end of a marriage, who the people were, who they are, how they got to where they are now, and how they deal with this traumatic situation. It is moving, and occasionally humorous. There is some outrageousness, but on an emotional level, it is very, very real. The book is filled with keen observations and almost any of you who are, or have been married, or equivalent, will find items here that ring bells. There is hope and joy here, hard times recalled and lived, change and stasis, longing and regret, honesty and dishonesty. There are signs of great love and moments of profound loss and sadness. There is a lot of truth here, if you can handle it.


=================================QUOTES

4 - What Evvie wanted to say—and would have had she known how to bridge the gulf—was that it was odd to be forty-one and have no real idea who you were. It had been all right when her husband, Ben, was beside her, not knowing who he was. But now Ben wore a suit. It no longer looked like a costume. He had been told he’d soon be promoted into something called knowledge management at the medical equipment firm. He would rise. He was forgetting their years when they’d worked a pushcart in fresh air, selling Middle Eastern food so they could get home by three and do what they really wanted to do—make art, play music. Not get trapped, as they used to say.

94 – did he have to take the pain of the present and inject it into the past so that all memory was rendered suspect?

142 - ”Are you telling me you’re lonely in your marriage to Neeni, too?”
“Let’s just say I feel like most of me is shelved away at least half of the time. Maybe more. But that’s life! We got kids. They’re demanding as hell! Even when I was with Danielle, before kids, we had the stress of shitty jobs. Basically what happens, unless you’re rich as hell, is you just pour yourself into making it through the days. The days zap you, and you can’t expect to come home to some kind of love nest, since the days are zapping her too.

…”Let’s just say I feel like we all have to be who we are, no matter who you’re with. That it doesn’t matter in the end. You get zapped. You think one woman’s not the right one. So you go shopping for another, and for a while she’ll seem like a lucky charm. You get a lot of action, you get some sweet talk over coffee in the morning. But then it goes back to just getting by. And one day you say to yourself, whether I’m here or there, whether it’s this woman or that woman, my balls will eventually be kicked and I’ll still be the man in the mirror.

…Ben considered saying good-bye and hanging up. Instead he took a deep breath, waited, then said, “Murphy, you should really talk to Neeni about this. You shouldn’t just go through the years feeling lonely.”

Murphy laughed. “Who said? Who said that wasn’t exactly what most people do, whether they’re married or not? Ever hear of the human condition?”

“This is where romanticizing your pain gets you, Murph. You’re a guy who hides in your bathroom.”

“I love my bathroom. It has everything I need.” Murphy laughed. “When we hang up, I get to sit on my throne with Calvin and Hobbes. The door is locked. This is the secret to happiness, brother.

Ben laughed, with a sinking sensation, since part of him suspected this might be true.

155 – Ben understood that the house of childhood cast a spell, gave her a form of multiple personality disorder, rendered her all the ages she had ever been inside of its walls. Without him, how was she to navigate the collision of selves? He’d seemed to love those selves, had lifted photographs out of albums and taken them for his own possessions: a picture of her when she was fat, bald baby: her second-grade school picture where she’d tried to look like she had extreme buckteeth like her friend Kenny Walters, who kept mice in a Barbie castle; and a photograph of her fourteen-year-old self in black cowboy boots, holding her pet rabbit, Zorro. Ben had framed this last one. Now it seemed to her he’d rejected not just the self she was now, but all those other people too. The ones whose ghosts still haunted the old house.

160 – Why did old wounds still seem present in the body, in the way that happiness did not? Why couldn’t happiness leave the same deep traces?


5 Days in May

They met in a hurricane
Standing in the shelter out of the rain
She tucked a note into his hand
Later on they took his car
Drove on down where the beaches are
He wrote her name in the sand
Never even let go of her hand

Somehow they stayed that way
For those 5 days in May
Made all the stars around them shine
Funny how you can look in vain
Living on nerves and such sweet pain
The loneliness that cuts so fine
To find the face you've seen a thousand times

Sometimes the world begins
To set you up on your feet again
And ohh it wipes the tears from your eyes
How will you ever know
The way that circumstances go
Oh its going to hit you by surprise
But I know my past
You were there
In everything I've done
You are the one

Looking back its hard to tell
Why they stood while others fell
Spend your life working it out
All I know is one cloudy day
They both just ran away
Rain on the windshield heading South
Oh she loved the lines around his mouth

Sometimes the world begins
To set you up on your feet again
And oh it wipes the tears from your eyes
How will you ever know
The way that circumstances go
Oh it’s going to hit you by surprise
But I know my past
You were there
In everything I've done
You are the one

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuUnApNzIz0