Evangelina Everyday (fiction) by Dawn Burns
Syracuse, IN author soars in collected vignettes-as-novel
Syracuse, Indiana author Dawn Burns writes Evangelina Everyday as a series of individual episodes, each a story within the story about some experience or other the title character undertakes. She refers to herself as Evangelina but can’t shake free of the nickname she grew up with – Evie. This is just one way in which Evangelina struggles with self-definition, a prominent theme of the book. Even when she tells her husband, Russell, what she wants to be called, he persists with Evie. The fact that he won’t adapt is a wet blanket on the already-insecure self-analysis that plagues her for much of the book.
Evangelina is an over-thinker. She lives up in her head a lot. Most of the conflicts in her experiences occur in her head – as arguments with others, or with herself, that she hasn’t the nerve to voice or enact. She lives between her ears pretty consistently for a good two thirds of the book. Anybody who grew up learning to make a life out of reading (and possibly writing) can easily relate. For all her insecurity and hesitancy, Evangelina is a winning character. She wins me over. She gives voice to the daily internal dialogue people are capable of having with who, how, what, and why they are.
She endears herself quickly – thus, the tendency to root for her, for her developing self-confidence, for her growing self-awareness. Within a chapter or two I found myself hoping things end up better for this lively protagonist than the way things begin. Burns doesn’t disappoint.
The singular turning point is the episode where Evangelina gets a flat tire on a country road. She exits the car, feels the sun, feels the wind, sits on the dirt and grass at the side of the road and for perhaps the first time in the novel is there, in the moment, being herself and enjoying who she is. We don’t even see the resolution of the scene, when someone presumably comes by and helps her put the donut on, and she’s on her way. Her journey is an interior journey. The way she comes to accept herself is an inside job.
It’s a great thrill to follow a character you’re rooting for as she blossoms into a better understanding of her life and herself in a way that inspires hope and mindfulness. At a couple different points in the book, Evangelina is self-consciously self-deprecating about how she only buys shoes at Kohl’s or Marshall Fields on clearance. By the end of the story she’s ready to be measured and fitted with a tailor-made suit.