Book 10 of 52: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

After the downward slide that was Book 9 of 52, I wanted something that would lighten my reading mood, especially since I’d be taking that book on vacation.

Despite looking like a fun road trip type book, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novelby Jonathan Evisonwas another downer, though in a well-written, touching way.

The book is about Benjamin Benjamin (yes, really), who has just about hit rock bottom. It’s not too much of a spoiler to give away that his two children died in an accident – that’s revealed early in the book, but how they died is told through flashbacks with that final, horrible scene coming toward the end of the book.

After the accident, his wife leaves him. The novel starts years later when he is living in a crappy apartment and starts working as a caregiver, helping Trev, a 19-year-old with muscular distrophy for $9 an hour (he had been the one to stay at home with the kids, so his resume is light). His wife wants him to sign the divorce papers. He’s deep in debt. He can’t let go.

Guilt and regret are big themes of this book – not just with Benjamin but with Bob, Trev’s father, who bolted when Trev was young. Ben and Trev do go on a road trip (and no, I won’t tell you why) where they come across a band of characters also dealing with regret, or the fallout of someone’s very bad decisions. It’s a heavy book, filled with messy people, and Ben’s desperation about everything winds through. But it’s not a bad book. It’s sad, but beautifully so.

The book is based on events in Evison’s life – not exactly, but things that did happen, namely his sister dying in a freak accident while on a road trip, and his parents’ subsequent divorce. My own stabs at fiction based on things that happened in my life have been painful enough. I can’t imagine working through and around something like this. It adds more weight to the book. Reading about that in Writer’s Digest is what finally prompted me to finally open the novel

I read Evison’s first book, West of Here, when it was published in 2011. I’ve had the galley copy of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving since May of last year and kept shoving it to the bottom of the to-read pile. West of Here was a sprawling, time-jumping epic, and I have to be in the mood for that kind of involved read. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving wasn’t what I’d call anything like a light read, but I didn’t need to keep track of multiple time periods to follow along. It’s a very different book, and I’m looking forward to see what he has next.

I’m writing this to you from St. Pete Beach, Fl. I try to come down every year in January or February for some sun and R&R. This year’s different with the breakup. I’m trying to clear my head here then I’m off to two schools to speak about journalism and then to the other coast to visit my grandparents, but I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit lonely. I’ve never stayed at this resort before, and it seems everyone on the beach is in a couple or part of a family. The more I think about what’s happened lately, the sadder I become (there’s also been this march of the ex boyfriends playing in my head, not helped by a party I was at Saturday night when someone started reciting them, as if it’s 100% my fault that I tried and tried and tried again and it still hasn’t worked out; reminders of my age aren’t helping anything either. In my worse moments, I imagine what other people think about me when they realize I’m 32 and single, that something is wrong with me since I’m not settled down). This book didn’t help with its big theme of regrets and what could have been, but that’s not Evison’s fault. Wrong book at the wrong time, but one I’m glad I read.

Also, that’s not a plea for compliments. I realize I’ve been holding back on this blog (maybe because I know more people are reading it?) so I’m trying to be more open with how these books hit me.

I finished this book on the beach today and started a new one right after – another book that I’ve wanted to read but have been shoving aside for a while. Stay tuned.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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