Greg Zimmerman's Reviews > The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
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Aug 22, 2012

it was amazing
Read from August 22 to 24, 2012

Life is near-constant revision, because even the best-laid plans go awry. Take, for instance, the writing of this review of Jonathan Evison's new novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. I planned to tell you how the novel is part roadtrip buddy comedy, part meditation on parenting, and part blueprint for pulling yourself up by the bootstraps when you hit rock bottom. I hoped to convey how funny and cool and downright irreverent (German Knuckle Cake, anyone?) Evison's writing is. And I was sure I'd leave you with some notion of how important it is to roll with life's punches.

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.
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