The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Jonathan Evison, Algonquin Books, 2012, 276 pp
Ever since his debut novel, All About Lulu, I have been in love with Jonathan Evison. He wowed me again with last year's West of Here. I am thrilled to say he has done it yet another time with his new one. He is among a handful of current novelists who reassure me that the age of fiction is far from over, no matter what the doomsayers would have us believe. I am going to see him read and regale us next Tuesday night at Skylight, one of LA's ultra cool indie bookstores.
Ben Benjamin is one of those early 21st century men who walk the fine line of gender roles as we slowly balance the male/female spectrum of existence. His wife got the better job early in their marriage, so he stayed home to raise the kids. I love the truthful, heartfelt, and hilarious rendition of what that is like for a guy. Funny thing is, it's not that different from what it's like for a woman.
If there is a theme to this novel, it is that we are all called upon to be caregivers at some point in our adult lives and we all fail in so many ways. Ben fails miserably when his children die in an accident for which he is pretty much fully responsible, even if it was an accident.
Having lost everyone and everything he truly loves (his wife leaves him after the accident), having run out of money and nearly maxed out his credit lines, having no marketable job skills, having really no reason to go on living but just keeping on the way most of us do, Ben enrolls in a class: The Fundamentals of Caregiving. Evison serves up more truth, heart, and hilarity.
So, bolstered only by the barest essentials of bodily care, professional bullet points, and the unlikely recommendation to keep an emotional distance from your client, Ben becomes the caregiver for Trev, a 19-year-old, horny, moody, domineering victim of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Instantly the already wobbly Ben is in way over his head.
The story careens its way into a redemption tale that only Jonathan Evison could have written. Poised on the exact brink between antic humor and deep despair, he depicts Ben, Trev, and a collection of desperate, heartbroken human beings as they take a road trip worthy of Kerouac or Steinbeck.
In my professional review at BookBrowse, I attempt to explain how great is Jonathan Evison's writing. He has always been great but now he has honed and fine-tuned everything: plot, characters, description, emotion. He makes it look effortless, as if he is merely tossing off a tall tale at the pub over a few pints.
Just read it! It is short, it is not ever boring even for a paragraph. Best of all, during this election season when all you hear is recycled bullshit, you will get the truth of modern American life.
(The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)