First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

Title: First You Try Everything
Author: Jane McCafferty
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: January 17th, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: TLC Book Tours and Publisher

Evvie and Ben's marriage is in shambles. As twentysomethings they were inseparable, drawn together by their idealism, love of music, and wounded childhoods while surviving on the earnings from their jobs as pushcart vendors. However, over the years, the two have grown apart to such a degree that the things that used to be enough for Ben can no longer sustain him. While Evvie stays the free-spirited activist attending political protests and expounding on the cruel treatment of farm animals, Ben's path veers more towards the suited nine-to-five lifestyle of a medical equipment salesman which offers him "affiliat[ion] in a way he'd never imagine possible." So one day, he decides to walk away from the marriage and into the arms of Lauren, a woman completely different than in his wife in every possible way. First You Try Everything tells the story of a completely heartbroken and psychologically unraveling woman who must deal with the radical changes, as her obsession with rekindling love leads her on a path to an outrageous scheme that could ultimately be her downfall.
Evvie has so skillfully manipulated him with her magnificent vulnerability that he felt like one of her beloved hogs or chickens who could hardly move in their cage. She had made him feel so indispensable, so responsible for her happiness!

When I first read the book summary for Jane McCafferty's latest, First You Try Everything, I couldn't help but be drawn by the words 'obsession,' 'marriage,' 'dangerous scheme,' and 'madcap.' The story is told from alternating points of view by Ben and Evvie with a single chapter from the perspective of Ranjeev, the clerk at the local convenience store. The format was an excellent choice for a book with topics like divorce and adultery that often need both sides explained in order to see the whole picture. As each chapter unfolded I found my loyalty to each character changing back and forth, a testament to McCafferty's skills as a writer. One moment I was right behind Evvie as the devastation and anger at the situation appeared, and then the next I was shaking my head with understanding as Ben's reasons became clearer. The entire novel is a very
much a complex roller coaster of emotions.
People start figuring each other out, solving them like a puzzle, then getting mad or bored. I mean, people should never be solved.
Unfortunately, the premise was not enough to carry the novel for me. I never became fully invested in the characters, although I came close with Ben's story which was an absolute surprise. His actions and rationalizations were quite multidimensional in a way that was simultaneously fascinating and aggravating. He wants to move on but can’t let go of certain habits and memories. One of my favorite lines in the book appears when Ben realizes that he’s letting his current feelings color past memories. “[C]ouldn't he let the simple truth of that survive? Did he have to take the pain of the present and inject it into the past so that all memory was rendered suspect?" I think we all can relate to that in some way whether in a positive or negative light.

Evvie, however, is a different story. I had such high hopes for her character, but I thought she came across as too much of a caricature with her protesting, political jabs, and her vegan diet stemming from her pro animal rights stance. Individually these traits are harmless, but when layered they became clichéd. On a positive note, McCafferty’s treatment of Evvie’s mental illness was very gripping, and the scenes that show her coming undone were some of the most powerful. I didn’t feel like her issues were only being included to further the plot or create a sensationalist story. Following Evvie down her path of bad decisions and bearing witness to the fall out did make for a compelling story.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, had the first quarter of the book been omitted, I would have likely enjoyed the novel more than I did. The story meandered too much in the beginning, and I think that contributed to my overall dislike of the characters. McCafferty does a good job of evenly presenting two sides of a failing marriage where the two individuals fail to grow together as the years pass. While First You Try Everything wasn’t a home run for me, it was a solid read, and I do recommend the novel if you enjoy good writing and the story appeals to you.

About Jane McCafferty

Jane McCafferty is the author of the novel One Heart and two collections of stories, Thank You for the Music and Director of the World and Other Stories, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She is the recipient of the NEA award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. She lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  

Thanks again to Trish from TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be on the tour. Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour for a different perspective!

Thursday, February 9th: The Blog of Lit Wits

Friday, February 10th: For Such a Time as This

Monday, February 13th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, February 14th: Drey’s Library

Thursday, February 16th: No Model Lady

Friday, February 17th: so much shouting, so much laughter

Monday, February 20th: Indie Reader Houston

Tuesday, February 21st: Books in the City

Wednesday, February 22nd: From L.A. to LA

Thursday, February 23rd: The Book Garden

Monday, February 27th: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, February 28th: Reading on a Rainy Day

Wednesday, February 29th: West Metro Mommy


  1. Hmm, I am not sure about this one. While I do enjoy a well written story, and I find the style unique, I think I might end up feeling frustrated with Evvie and all her shenanigans. But something about the way you reacted to this book strikes me, and tells me that there is something here for me. I am off to see if I can find it, and will have to report back on what I think!

  2. I think that's so interesting that one chapter is from the clerk at the convenience store. I bet that was an interesting perspective!

  3. I'm sorry you couldn't get into this one as much as you'd hoped, but thanks for sharing your thoughts on it for the tour.

  4. I recently read this and I see your point re: it being hard to invest in these characters. I do, however, think the writing is beautiful.

  5. Individually these traits are harmless, but when layered they became clichéd.

    I definitely know what you mean, and have never really thought of it that way before -- but sometimes it's hard to pinpoint why a character and his/her traits aren't working. That's completely it, though -- they can easily become caricatures.


Post a Comment