Relationships are hard. They take work. What’s even harder is when one person in the relationship is gaslighting the other. Pop Culture Happy Hour podcaster and cultural critic for NPR, Linda Holmes makes her debut as a novelist with Evvie Drake Starts Over, which takes a deep dive into today’s contemporary relationships. Unfortunately, that dive often feels like it’s straight into the shallow end of the modern dating pool.
What happens when you marry your high school sweetheart only to discover he’s someone who is secretly violent and gaslights you? Gaslighting is serious business and it’s prevalent in today’s society. So why doesn’t the partner just leave the toxic relationship behind? As we discover with Evvie, things aren’t always that easy to accomplish. When she finally musters the courage to leave, her husband is involved in a car accident and is dead on arrival at the hospital he works at.
In a marriage where emotional abuse occurs, there are two parts to it — the one doing the gaslighting, and the other who is trying desperately to hold onto the relationship. We can’t lay the blame entirely at Evvie’s husband’s feet because there is a reason why the other person in the relationship continues to stay. For Evvie, her mother left her when she was young, making her feel responsible for the departure. From that point of view, we can understand why Evvie would stay with her emotionally abusive spouse.
This book was an easy read but there was something off about the characters. They were bland and one-note. I never got the sense of who Evvie was, what she looked like, or what she did to maintain her large home without her husband’s doctor’s salary until partway through. When Evvie’s best friend Andy suggests renting out her basement suite to help cover expenses, she meets Andy’s old friend Dean, a professional pitcher forced into early retirement because of the ‘yips’. What I didn’t understand was how comfortable Evvie was speaking to Dean, especially since she had been in her own words “…on the couch for thirteen, going on fourteen months.”
For a woman whose been a recluse (aside from spending every Saturday morning with her best friend Andy), I don’t believe she would have such lighthearted conversations with someone she barely knows.
Her relationship with Dean quickly spirals beyond landlord/tenant which might be the fantasy for many people, but there are some odd nuances from Evvie’s perspective. She becomes almost obsessed with helping him get over the ‘yips’, which is nice, but she wants to fix him. She has been a ‘fixer’ her entire life, from losing her mom at such a young age to being married to her husband, Tim. It seems to be the only way she can function because she’s unable, or unwilling, to fix herself.
Then there’s the relationship between Evvie and her dad. It really pissed me off when she treated her dad with disrespect at Thanksgiving because he was trying to give her a compliment. Sure, she felt bad about wanting to leave everyone and everything behind but it doesn’t give her the right to snap at her dad, who has provided for her entire life. This didn’t make sense to me because if Evvie truly felt responsible for her mom’s departure, she might treat her dad differently. Evvie’s dad went out of his way to protect her after her mom left, raising her without fail when she still nine years old. Their relationship could have been explored further, especially as I felt a key piece of Evvie’s personality was missing.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend Evvie Drake Starts Over as I feel Holmes needs to start this entire story over. It had a juicy premise but felt monotonous throughout, and left me wanting to know more about these characters. I wish there was a deeper examination of Evvie and the evils of gaslighting, including the impact it has on both the well-being of those enduring it and how it affects their social relationships. Despite our growing awareness about the damage inflicted by emotional abuse today, it still happens and stories like this only add an incorrect view of how a survivor would act.