Evison's 'Caregiving': a salty-sweet story of loss, sorrow and transformation by road trip
In his new novel, "The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving," Seattle-area author Jonathan Evison tells the story of a man reeling from multiple losses who gets a new perspective when he takes on the caregiving of a fiercely stubborn 20-year-old with muscular dystrophy. Evison appears at several Seattle-area locations in September and October.
Special to The Seattle Times
Jonathan EvisonThe author of "The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving" will make these local appearances:
• 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at Seattle's University Book Store, in conversation with Maria Semple, author of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
• 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).
• 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island, in conversation with author Lance Weller ("Wilderness") (206-842-5332 or www.eagleharborbooks.com).
'The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving'
by Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 278 pp., $23.95
As plot devices go, the road trip is as old as Homer. And why not? Traveling gives the story momentum and, on a symbolic level, represents an inner transformation that is part of the journey.
Jonathan Evison, an award-winning author from Bainbridge Island, ("All About Lulu," "West of Here") puts this idea to good use in his latest novel, "The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving," in which a caregiver busts the rules and takes his client for the ride of his life. Both are changed for the better.
"The world flows right through me like a human dribble glass," 39-year-old Ben Benjamin, the story's narrator, tells us at the beginning. Two years earlier, his young son and daughter died in an accident while he was on duty as their stay-at-home dad. Now he's up to his gills in credit-card debt, his long-gone wife wants a divorce, and his landlord thinks he's a liar.
In a bid to pay his bills if not regain his sanity, Ben has endured the Fundamentals of Caregiving night course. Now on to his first assignment: Trevor, a 20-year-old Bremerton man with advanced muscular dystrophy and a snarky attitude.
So much about the job could frustrate Ben. But his biggest gripe is how narrowly Trevor, "a pretzel with a perfectly healthy imagination," defines his world. In Ben's estimation, "Trev" deserves more out of life than a steady diet of flaxseed waffles, the Weather Channel and trash talk about women.
At Ben's suggestion, the two create a map of America's weirdest roadside attractions. Then, after Trevor's absentee dad is hurt in a car accident, Ben proposes a road trip to see some sights and visit the man. Trevor's mother reluctantly consents.
Evison has an ear for youthful dialogue, sliding words like "dude," "grotie" and "totally" into the conversation as comfortably as a, and and the. But he's equally deft at showing what his characters are really saying and feeling beneath the clichés of common parlance.
For instance, as the trip commences, Ben notes Trevor's smile — "not his signature evil genius grin or the uncomfortable tacked-on grin • but a genuine, lighthearted, devil-may-care grin. And something about it makes me want to cry." That's all you need to know about the size of Ben's heart.
Soon Ben and Trevor start adding passengers — first a teen runaway with a nose ring, then a couple with a baby on the way. It's as if their van is filling up with the human connections that both of them need. By the time they reach Yellowstone, you'll even shed a tear over the guy in the car that's been trailing them.
"The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving" deals with sorrow and disability and all the things that can go wrong in life. But mostly Evison has given us a salty-sweet story about absorbing those hits and taking a risk to reach beyond them. What a great ride.
Ellen Emry Heltzel is a Portland writer and co-author of "Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures."