Sunday Burgs book review
Reviewed by Elizabeth Sensabaugh, branch supervisor of the Blacksburg Library
Perhaps it was the curious title that enchanted me. Or it could have been the quiet appeal of the book cover with its Scooby Mystery Machine-like van. Or maybe it was just a longing for a road trip in general, the likes of which I haven’t had since Spring Break in 1990. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I checked out Jonathan Evison’s newest book, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.”
The sad star of the story, Ben Benjamin, has lost his home, his family, and seemingly all promise of a desirable future. His two young children died in a horrific accident for which he daily persecutes himself, and he is estranged from his wife as a result.
Seeking job prospects Ben attends courses and receives certification for The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, a career path that provides the book title. Ben’s first job begins with Trevor, a sharp-tongued, wheelchair-bound teen suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Trevor is a sarcastic and challenging charge, but he is eventually won over by Ben’s self-deprecation and sense of humor. Their mutual appreciation of lewd jokes unites them and provides comic relief to the reader.
Ben is perhaps as emotionally stunted as Trevor is physically afflicted. Their individual limitations solidify a relationship of seeming codependency. Trevor needs Benjamin to help him accomplish the tasks that are routine for the healthy. Ben needs Trevor to redeem his confidence for successful care giving. Facing improbable futures, both are in desperate need of revisions of their personal realities. Ben poses a road trip and with reservations, Trevor’s mother surprisingly capitulates.
Flagging roadside attractions, Ben and Trevor plot their adventure from Washington to Utah. Along the way they befriend unlikely characters for which Ben assumes responsibility. Dot, a runaway teen, and Peaches, a pregnant woman along with her dullish boyfriend, all takes seats in the travelling van.
The road trip is complicated by unexpected events which Ben repeatedly and hilariously eludes, including a skulking car that ominously trails them and a legal courier who repeatedly surfaces to serve divorce papers. Several fights, two arrests and a birth all occur in a short span. The story moves swiftly, revealing haunts of the past and hopeful promises for the future.
New York Times bestselling author John Evison delivers a goldmine (and occasionally a few landmines) in the telling of Ben’s story. The book website at http://www.revisedfundamentals.com/ offers that “Fundamentals” was inspired by the loss of Evison’s sister who died while taking a road trip with friends in celebration of her sweet sixteenth. In Evison’s words the book 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.”
Evison’s previous works include “West of Here” and “All About Lulu,” available in the library and electronically. Suggested read-alikes for “Fundamentals” includes the following: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce; “The Astral by Kate Christensen” and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. These titles and more are available in a variety of formats with your Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library card.
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