NPR Interview: Linda Holmes, Author Of 'Evvie Drake Starts Over'The debut novel from NPR's own Linda Holmes follows a suddenly widowed (and not all that grief-stricken) woman and her new lodger — a former major league ballplayer who's lost his ability to pitch.
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."
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
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.
Monika Evstatieva and Samantha Balaban produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Petra Mayer adapted it for the Web.