2 Fractured Halves Make A Whole In 'Evvie Drake'

Jun 22, 2019
Originally published on June 24, 2019 10:14 am

Evvie Drake is about to make a dramatic change in her life. She's planning to leave her husband, and then she gets a phone call: He's dead, and suddenly she's a widow who doesn't feel much grief.

Evvie winds up living alone in a big house in her small Maine town — until she gets a boarder. It's Dean Tenney, a former major league pitcher who can no longer throw the ball over the plate. The story of two fractured people trying to become whole is the heart of Linda Holmes' new novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over.

In writing the book, Holmes did a lot of research on baseball and "the yips," the condition plaguing Dean. "It's so awful that it's really compelling," she says. "It is a true story, and I talk about it in the book, that Chuck Knoblauch, who played for the Yankees, threw into the stands because his arm had gotten so bad trying to throw to first — and he hit Keith Olbermann's mother. That's hard to believe, that it could be that bad, but I find these stories so terrible and relatable, because I think as a creative person, you're always afraid that you'll just wake up one day and never have another idea."


Interview Highlights

On Evvie's grief over not grieving

I think when I started the book I was more focused on the fact that she felt very guilty about not being more grief-stricken, but as I started to write it, I also realized that she's very frustrated that she didn't get to leave, which was something she had really begun to think of as part of her journey, was leaving under her own power. And she doesn't get to do that ... So I think both of them are people who have to kind of find a new path, very unexpectedly.

On Evvie worrying about Dean

When he comes to her, he kind of says, "I'm over it, it's all done, it's fine," and she doesn't really believe him, and she's very curious about whether, does he in fact want to fix this, does he want to go back, does he want to try to recover. And she does discover at one point that he's still going out to a kind of a deserted ballpark in the middle of winter, and throwing because he doesn't know what else to do.

On what it's like to be a pop culture critic putting yourself out there for criticism

I've never been much interested in people who weren't trying, and always very sympathetic with people who are, because we're all so flawed and complicated. - Linda Holmes

It's not that I'm unaccustomed to being told that my work is bad — even for critics, that happens to you all the time. Happens all the time! But I do think that fiction in particular is a different kind of vulnerability, because it is true that you're really saying to people, "I made all this up, it did not really happen, please sit down and let me tell you this story which comes entirely out of my head." And that does make you feel very exposed in a different way, probably, than "I'm going to talk about this movie," or what have you.

On everyone in the story having a moment of grace, of worthiness

I've never been much interested in people who weren't trying, and always very sympathetic with people who are, because we're all so flawed and complicated, but I think I've been lucky enough in my life to know so many people who, despite being flawed and complicated, are also very loving and supported, and you just, you look for those times when other people are important to you, and you have an opportunity to be important to them, whether they're friends or family, or people that you fall in love with.

On having a few careers and fresh starts herself

I always say I'm approximately on Plan E for my life — you know, I wanted when I was in college to be a music teacher, and then I went to law school, and then I came to NPR, and then I was a writer, and then I got into podcasting and now I'm doing this. And there have been so many plans, and I've been very lucky to be able to follow the path wherever it goes, and I think it has made me particularly sympathetic with people who have to try something completely new, and find a different version of themselves ... I think everybody has that moment where they think, "What I thought my life was going to be is not quite it's going to be." And those are both very difficult moments, and moments that lead you to something that's more true.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Evvie Drake is about to make a dramatic change in her life. She's planning to leave her husband when she gets a phone call that changes her life for her. He's dead. She's a widow who doesn't feel much grief. Evvie winds up living alone in a big house in her small Maine town until she gets a boarder. It's Dean Tenney, former major league pitcher who can no longer throw the ball over the plate.

The story of two fractured people trying to become whole is the heart of Linda Holmes' new novel "Evvie Drake Starts Over." And Linda Holmes, host of the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for walking across the newsroom to join us.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: I appreciate it. I'm so happy to be here.

SIMON: Was it an eventful trip?

HOLMES: Yeah. Yeah, it was very eventful. I think I stopped for a Diet Coke on the way.

SIMON: All right. Well, Dean Tenney - I know you love sports. You did a lot of research about baseball pitchers and the yips, didn't you?

HOLMES: I did. I read a lot about it. It's partly because I find it so fascinating. It's so awful that it's really compelling because...

SIMON: We should explain. This person...

HOLMES: Yeah.

SIMON: ...That has a God-given talent to throw the ball with some velocity across the plate suddenly...

HOLMES: Yeah, can't do it...

SIMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...At all. And it can happen in other sports. It comes from golf, really.

SIMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: But I have read a lot about it happening to pitchers. And some of the stories from baseball are just - it is a true story, and I talk about it in the book, that Chuck Knoblauch, who played for the Yankees, threw into the stands because his arm had gotten so bad trying to throw to first, and he hit Keith Olbermann's mother. That's hard to believe that it could be that bad. But I find these stories so terrible and relatable because I think as a creative person, you're always afraid that you'll just wake up one day and never have another idea.

SIMON: Right, exactly, that the gift will just leave you.

HOLMES: Yeah.

SIMON: For Evvie's part, is she grief-stricken over the fact that she's not more grief-stricken?

HOLMES: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. And I think when I started the book, I was more focused on the fact that she felt very guilty about not being more grief-stricken. But as I started to write it, I also realized that she's very frustrated that she didn't get to leave, which was something she had really begun to think of as part of her journey - was leaving under her own power. And she doesn't get to do that.

SIMON: This wouldn't seem to be an obvious couple. But without relaying too much, what do they find in each other?

HOLMES: I think they're both people who have had an abrupt change of plans that wasn't really voluntary. I think Evvie, both because her marriage didn't turn out the way she wanted, and then also because when she was planning to leave, she was interrupted in that as well. So I think both of them are people who have to kind of find a new path very unexpectedly.

SIMON: She worries when he starts disappearing to go to a ballpark in the middle of the night.

HOLMES: Yeah. She - when he comes to her, he kind of says, I'm over it. It's all done. It's fine. And she doesn't really believe him. And she is very curious about whether - does he, in fact, want to fix this? Does he want to go back? Does he want to try to recover? And she does discover, at one point, that he's still kind of going out to a kind of a deserted ballpark in the middle of winter and throwing because he doesn't really know what else to do.

SIMON: You're a pop culture correspondent. You review the creative efforts of other people. So what's it like to put those shoes on yourself?

HOLMES: It's not that I'm unaccustomed to being told that my work is bad, right? That's - even for critics, that happens to you...

SIMON: Oh...

HOLMES: ...All the time.

SIMON: ...That - no, who would say that?

HOLMES: Happens all the time. But I do think that fiction, in particular, is a different kind of vulnerability because it is true that you're really saying to people, I made all this up. It did not really happen. Please sit down and let me tell you this story which comes entirely out of my head. And that does make you feel very exposed in a different way, probably, than I'm going to talk about this movie or what have you.

SIMON: Everyone in this story has a moment or more of grace.

HOLMES: I think that's right.

SIMON: They get good marks for earnestness. They're trying their best.

HOLMES: I think that's exactly right. I think that's exactly right. I've never been much interested in people who weren't trying and always very sympathetic with people who are because we're all so flawed and complicated. But I think I've been lucky enough in my life to know so many people who, despite being flawed and complicated, are also very loving and supportive. And you just - you look for those times when other people are important to you and you have an opportunity to be important to them, whether they're friends or family or people that you fall in love with.

SIMON: I hope this doesn't put you on the spot. You've had a few careers.

HOLMES: Uh-huh.

SIMON: You've written a novel now featuring people who are starting over...

HOLMES: Yeah.

SIMON: ...In other ways, too.

HOLMES: Yeah.

SIMON: Sense of identity.

HOLMES: Sure, of course. I always say I'm on, approximately, plan E for my life. You know, I wanted, when I was in college, to be a music teacher. And then I wanted to be - and then I went to law school. And then I came to NPR, and I was a writer. And then I got into podcasts, and now I'm doing this.

And there have been so many plans. And I've been very lucky to be able to follow the path wherever it goes. And I think it has made me particularly sympathetic with people who have to try something completely new and find a different version of themselves. I think, absolutely, that's part of it for me, too.

SIMON: Well, that's at the heart of your novel.

HOLMES: Yeah. I mean, I think everybody has that moment where they think, what I thought my life was going to be is not quite what it's going to be. And those are both very difficult moments, and often moments that lead you to something that's more true, which is surprising sometimes. But that's very much how it was for me.

SIMON: Linda Holmes - her novel, "Evvie Drake Starts Over" - thank you so much for being with us.

HOLMES: Thank you, Scott.

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