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The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel Hardcover – August 28, 2012
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Amazon Exclusive: Essay by Jonathan Evison
"Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible."
— from The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
The weekend of my sister’s sixteenth birthday, she took a road trip with some friends down to Lucerne Valley in the Mojave Desert. For two weeks prior, the trip was a source of debate around our dinner table. My old man reasoned that since she was a responsible kid, got good grades, fed her pets, and honored her curfew, she ought to be allowed to take the trip. My mother reasoned that it was a bad idea. She didn’t trust the other kids. They were a scraggly bunch.
My sister took the trip. She never came home. She was killed in a freak car accident the weekend she turned sixteen years old. The incident, the specifics of which have never been explained satisfactorily by anyone, all but exploded my family. My parents divorced after twenty-five years of marriage. I lost what amounted to my primary caregiver. My oldest brother was deeply depressed for two years afterward and was really never the same in some fundamental way. To this day, my family is still feeling the shockwaves. I’m still walking around with this sister-shaped hole in my heart. After a few beers, my brother will still lament the fact that he owed her seven bucks at the time of the accident. The seven bucks had been a point of contention involving the sale of a ten-speed bike. They argued fiercely about the money up until the day she left. At fifty-seven, my brother is still trying to pay that debt.
There are holes in our lives that can never be filled--not really, not ever. And yet, we have no choice but to try to fill them. We must drive on in the face of debilitating loss, crippling guilt, overwhelming hopelessness. Because to give up is to be dead. I’ve lived with this idea since I was five years old.
Ben Benjamin is a character who has lost virtually everything--his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. Broken, stripped down, stricken, and without hope, Ben is a shadow of his old self. He has been a stay-at-home dad for nearly a decade, so the job market has all but passed him by. With few options, Ben registers for a twenty-eight-hour night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving, where, in the sweltering basement of the Abundant Life Foursquare Church, Ben learns how to insert catheters and avoid liability. He learns about professionalism and how to erect and maintain certain boundaries, how to keep physical and emotional distance between the client and the care provider. He learns that caregiving is just a job. But when Ben finds himself assigned to a tyrannical nineteen-year-old named Trev, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he discovers that the endless mnemonics and service plan checklists presented in his class have done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, scared, sexually frustrated adolescent with an ax to grind with the world at large.
When I set out to write this novel, I didn’t envision it as a road novel. I’ve never had a desire to write a road novel--in fact, I was very resistant to the idea. But the characters led me to the road. They left me no choice. They all but dragged me kicking and screaming to the road. It seemed Ben and Trev were always driving around in that van of Trev’s, but they were never getting anywhere. They were both stuck. They needed that van to deliver them somewhere--and I guess I needed it, too. Because that’s where this novel delivered me. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a story of total collapse, and ultimately, reconstruction. Before it is over, this calamitous journey will cover five states, resulting in one birth, two arrests, and one instance of cannibalism and including a dust storm, a hail storm, several shit storms, and a six-hundred-mile cat-and-mouse pursuit by a mysterious Buick Skylark.
Baggage is collected.
Hearts are won and lost.
Mistakes are forgiven.
Futures are realized.
This book represents nothing less than an emotional catharsis for its author. I wrote this book because I needed to. Because my sister went on a road trip thirty-nine years ago and never came back. And my family has yet to heal from this terrible fact. This novel is about the imperative of getting in that van, because you have no choice but to push yourself and drive on, and keep driving in the face of life’s terrible surprises. It’s about the people and the things you gather along that rough road back to humanity. And in the end, for me, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is the van in which I finally bring my sister home.
Washington Post Notable Works of Fiction for 2012
Kansas City Star Top 100 Books of 2012
Seattle Times’ 25 Best Books of 2012
Editors’ Pick for Amazon’s Best of 2012 list
"Engaging . . . The journey is reckless and wild, infused with the sad rage that makes good comedy great . . . As this carload of misfits moves east, relationships are broken and forged, and Ben recreates a kind of family. This could be horribly clichéd and yet it isn't, because Evison never bows to what we expect from happy endings." ―Jennifer Gilmore, The New York Times Book Review
“Evison’s third and most stealthily powerful novel . . . [is] a book so poignant yet improbably funny . . . [An] adventurous story.”―Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"A journey back to life . . . bittersweet . . . It's moving and funny, and, my God, how refreshing it is to read a story about someone caring for a disabled person that isn't gauzed in sentimentality or bitterness." ―Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Evison’s prose is replete with his gifts for witty imagery and turns of phrase . . . With its extremely cinematic plot and collection of quirky scenes, the novel might remind you of Little Miss Sunshine meets Rain Man . . . The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is even-keeled, big-hearted, and very funny, and full of hope. Through Ben, missteps are made, and human foibles are exposed. But we also glimpse that distant shore of hard-earned redemption. For that, Evison’s novel is worth the voyage.”―The Boston Globe
"It's a story of heartbreak and healing . . . This is a novel with a terrific sense of the relationship between comedy and tragedy." ―The Daily Beast
"Evison has given us a salty-sweet story about absorbing those hits and taking a risk to reach beyond them. What a great ride." ―The Seattle Times
"Evison has an easy fluidity with the dashed dreams and disappointments of characters who don't ask for pity." ―Seattle Weekly
"The comic novel may be the hardest work of fiction to pull off well . . . The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a showcase of what makes a good one tick: Characters just a touch disconnected from reality, a prevailing sense of life's absurdity and a handful of rude jokes . . . Evison proves that some of the best comedy emerges from lives that have jumped the rails.”―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A warm, funny look at recovering from tragedy.”―Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A cathartic novel that will leave readers breathing a heavy sigh of pleasurable release. Its offensive at times, witty, funny, and an excellent example of modern realism . . . Evison offers readers bittersweet highs and tragic lows while illuminating all the sticky, messy passages in between. No matter what you’re in the mood for, pick up this little gem. In less than 300 pages, the weight of the world will feel a little lighter on your shoulders in the aftershock of Ben’s tragedy. Your prospects may seem brighter next to Trev’s grim future. Your eyes will sting from laughter at the dark, unforgiving humor. You won’t have any regrets.”―The Missourian
“A zany road trip from grief to grace . . . [A] sometimes funny, sometimes slapstick, big-hearted novel.”―The Oregonian
“Evison's brand of feel-good storytelling comes from life's trenches, where hope and humor must endure in the face of despair.”―Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Evison has developed the command of craft and tightness of focus necessary to animate quirky characters and outlandish set pieces.”―Philadelphia City Paper
“I think you're going to be hearing a lot about Jonathan Evison's new novel. Reviews will mention the construction of the book (alternating time periods, brilliantly handled), the secondary characters (all vivid), the road trip (crazy and transforming), and the perfect blend of humor and sadness. One of Evison's gifts is creating characters that are easy to care about . . . It’s a thought-provoking story about two men trying to do their best in a world that doesn't play fair.”―Beth Fish Reads
"Luminously moving and very funny." ―The Rumpus
“Smart and bittersweet and attuned to the absurdity of life -- Evison's book is the literary version of a good grunge song.”―LA Weekly (“Book of the Week” selection)
"Let's not mince words. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is far and away the best novel Jonathan Evison has ever written . . . It's funny, moving, and lively, the sort of novel that will appeal to avid readers and to people who only manage to read one or two books in a year. The secret, the trick to the book, is in the voice of the narrator, which feels so true that it simply can't be denied." ―The Stranger
“Evison manages to find considerable humor in this plaintive story of care giving and receiving . . . A lively narrative with a poignant core and quirky, lonely characters.”―Kirkus Reviews
Top Customer Reviews
But, instead, this: You should read this book because it'll make you happy. I promise.
(Okay, just kidding. We won't stop there. That'd be silly. And cliché. And probably a little frustrating for you.)
So yes, this novel will make you happy, even though, for the most part, it's a profoundly sad book -- main character Benjamin Benjamin (never trust a guy with two first names, especially when those two first names are the same first name) is down to his last few bucks. His wife Janet is divorcing him after a mysterious "disaster" involving their two children, the story of which Evison weaves in periodically with the "real time" story. And Benjamin, having completed a course in caregiving, is making $9 an hour caring for a 19-year-old, wheelchair-bound dude named Trev who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
A lot of the fun of the novel is the back-and-forth banter between Trev and Ben. They discuss girls ("Look at the turd-cutter on her", e.g.), and watch the Weather Channel, and eat waffles. And every Thursday, they go to the movies. The novel really kicks into gear when Ben convinces Trev's mother to allow him to take Trev on a roadtrip to Utah (they live in Washington state) to see Trev's father Bob, a loser who walked out on the family when Trev was diagnosed with his disease, but who has been clumsily trying to make amends. (In one scene, he tries to ingratiate himself by bringing them KFC.)
They meet some interesting folks on the road and see some interesting things. And of course, the trip, like life, doesn't exactly go as planned. As Ben says, "Look, I didn't plan any of this, believe me. Not this trip, not these passengers, and definitely not what I left behind. I planned like hell for something else entirely. All this just happened."
A lot of questions keep you turning the pages quickly. Will Ben and his wife reconcile, or will they at least forgive each other? Will Trev forgive his father? And what really is the "disaster" that befell Ben's children?
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is the second Evison novel I've read, after last year's West of Here, which I also loved. But the two novels are very, very different. (And this is where the reviewer says something glib, like "it's hard to believe they came from the same writer. It's a testament to Evison's talent. Etc.) That's okay though. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving shows that, when you have nothing to lose, everything else becomes gain-able. (Cue the silly movie trailer music.) Seriously, though, five stars - one of my favorites of the year.
The basic situation in this book: Benjamin has been on a downward spiral, with his wife pushing him to sign divorce papers and his children lost to him. There has been a major tragedy in his life (those details are best left for readers to discover). In an act of desperation, he takes a class which teaches him the art of caregiving. Then he lands a job looking after Trevor, a young man with muscular dystrophy.
The job is as difficult as one might expect. Ben's pay is minimal. He has to deal with Trevor's mother, a formidable and fiercely protective woman. And Trevor's father? He has been out of the picture for quite some time.
The most painful part of reviewing for me is the obligation to provide my honest reaction to a book while realizing writers work very hard to reach readers. So I don't want to discourage possible readers from giving this book a chance - and it is also worth noting that many other reviewers liked the book.
But here's why I didn't (and I'll also note the strong points of this novel) :
Neither Trevor nor Ben seemed fully fleshed out to me. I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to be intrigued by their interactions and drawn into their lives. I wanted the story to have a lingering impact.
The novel does have some strong points. As I worked my way through it, I couldn't help wondering: was it Trevor who was primarily caring for Ben or was it the other way round? This was one of the most powerful themes, the way each pushed the other, struggling to find meaning, independence and balance in their lives.
Most of the chapters are a mix of past and present events. As an example, one chapter might focus on Benjamin and Trevor's daily routine while the next could reveal clues to Ben's past as well as his ongoing struggles with his wife. Ben is in denial about the divorce.
So it is very convenient to take Trevor on a road trip across America (in spite of strong reservations from Trevor's mother). The mission is supposedly to find Trevor's father but they are eventually joined by a cast of eccentric people along the way. Then there is the eerie car which is trailing them. Who is pursuing them? Why?
All of these events could have resulted in a strong, exciting novel - and I kept rooting for it to take flight, to meet my hopes. But it simply never came together for me. I finished it because I wanted to give the fairest review possible. I felt I owed that much to the author. I'll certainly check out his next book. Even my favorite authors may have a book or two that falls flat.
I did feel some interest in discovering what happened to Ben. Would he reconcile with his wife? Would he come to terms with his pain? And how would the trip affect Trevor? This was enough to keep me reading until the novel's conclusion. But even after discovering what answers I could the book simply didn't take hold.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I laughed out loud at his humor which is rare in a book about caregiving.Read more