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Book Review – The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

 

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What benevolent God would conceive of a dynamic where the impulse to nurture repels?

When I jotted this down as one of my favorite lines from this book, I realized it summed up the entire book in one sentence. 

The “Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” follows Benjamin Benjamin as he heals from old wounds by way of caring for Trevor, a young boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Their companionship takes them on a long road trip to visit Trevor’s estranged father, Bob, and along the way they pick up some pretty interesting characters. 

This was a good, profound book. By no means was it an easy read. This book is not for those looking for something to cozy up with next to the fireplace, some hibiscus tea in their hands. The verbiage is perhaps too advanced for you to get away with being half-asleep while reading. You will get lost and end up reading numerous paragraphs over. 

IDK why I keep getting myself into these situations where I’m picking out these demanding novels with their demanding themes and immensely profound proses. I just finished Challenger Deep–a deeply moving novel–which I beat myself up about because I finished it and couldn’t remember the first half and you guys know me… I want to make sure I’m able to tell you, in great detail, everything I loved about a book I read. 

When I read books, I take pictures of paragraphs or sentences I like on my phone so I can save them for later. I went through a few of the pictures I had taken while reading this book and I didn’t recognize the first couple. Total shame. Like I said, it’s a demanding read.

Told in first person, it’s like Ben, our main character is talking to you and, at times, almost talking through you. I got a little caught up in some of his wise thinkings. In some of his grandiose soliloquies. There are a lot of words on each page, and I have to be that girl that points a finger at the publisher and says, ay, the fact that you mashed so much of his poignant story-telling into so few pages made it a little hard to follow. You can’t glance away without having to search inanely for your spot on a page.

That’s where I will say Young Adult has a foot up. Their pages are so easy to turn and read, so easy to get through. I hate that every single page of “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” felt intimidating. There was just so much there, I really think the book, with its profound propensity to be quite moving, could have benefited from some double fucking spacing. God damn. 

But back to the book. From what I was able to digest, and I really did digest a lot of it, I gathered a very high opinion of this book, and of the author, Jonathan Evison. What an esteemed gift he has to string together so many complex words and force you to actually think because you know what he’s saying is going to be worth the extra brainpower it will take to translate. 

His characters were full of life. I LOVE when characters, and not just the main one, but all of them, have issues. Family issues, emotional issues, physical issues, you name it. I love it when the author goes the extra mile to give each character an actual place in the world and not just in the main character’s life. 

I thought the pacing of this book was a little slow. It sort of jumps into it in the beginning and then it tapers off slowly until you’re turning pages waiting for the little mini van to make an appearance that you will see above on the cover. There were a lot of side plots in Ben’s life particularly that I thought weren’t completely necessary and sort of detracted from the forward movement. 

But I loved the flash backs. I loved the mystery of it, how you kept reading because you wanted to unfold that final layer of the onion, which finally unveiled why the fuck Ben was who he was. 

I loved the emotional depths that you got to dive into. And most importantly, I loved how tragic and seemingly pathetic all the characters were, but you were rooting for them the whole time, as if they were on their way to doing some valiant. Something downright heroic. 

Their plans were this: drive to see Trevor’s dad and along the way, visit America’s most pointless fucking tourist attractions, ending with the Bingham Pit in Salt Lake City. 

Of course this book was hilarious. One of the lines I didn’t remember, though laughed at apparently the second time around:

He winces at first, but then sighs with relief as I apply a curlicue of Neosporin to the popped blister. His dingus feels like a salamander between my fingers, though nothing in my manner suggests that I am disgusted. I am, after all, a pro.

“You’re not a fag are you?” he says.

The author didn’t hold back. He let the funny roar out of all the characters. Out of Dot and her blatant lack of a filter, especially when addressing a boy who may have less than seven years to live. Out of Peaches and Elton, two of the most tragic human beings to grace the earth. Out of Bob, who suffers through the karmic consequences of ditching your kid when he’s diagnosed with a fatal illness at age three. Out of Ben, who is a thirty-one-year-old man wiping someone’s ass for a living while simultaneously dodging a court order his wife filed against him. Out of Trevor, who has a disease that constricts him to a wheelchair and apparently to a routine, as it was an impossible feat pulling Trevor away from his coveted routine that involved the weather channel and some girl he would pin agains the wall and fuck so hard she couldn’t walk straight for days. 

The book is plagued with humor. The dark kind. The wise kind. The type of humor you expect from that one jackass at school, the really smart one with the weighted GPA of a 4.8. The one that argues with you about politics in government and answers something you said that you thought was distinctly wise with lol. 

Certainly, I don’t belong here. A small part of me–perhaps the hopeful part or maybe the courageous part–wants to suggest that we all pile into the Suburu and go buy Slurpees. But then I remind myself that I’m a would-be divorcee, who used to be a father, and most of me wants to run from this house as though it were burning. 

I thought the author did an enormously incredible job setting the scene. As a large amount of this book was set in a car winding through various mountainous and forested landscapes, it was required that Jonathan have a certain level of competence when it came to describing a scene. 

He’s completely competent. And as a native to Montana, when the van full of weirdos was winding through it’s tortuous landscapes (as far as describing them goes), he did a spot on job, I could see them in my head. 

The scenery flattens out as we drop into the Lower Geyser Basin, and the otherworldly Yellowstone of postcards begins to reveal itself in the cracked and steaming flats. As far as the eye can see, the whitewashed earth is venting, burping, bubbling up from within. A giant caldera. A supervolcano. Somewhere a tour guide is saying something about the dawn of the world. But someday this belching cauldron may end the world.

Funny. Spot on. Vivid.

Above all else, this is a great read. It’s funny, it’s full of life and of the intimate teachings of somebody who’s been through a lot and doesn’t give a damn whether he appears tragic because of it, either way, he wants to learn from it and hasn’t given up hope that something can still be made of the tender life he still has yet to live. 

But the thing about caring is, it’s inconvenient.

And he’s absolutely right. And that’s why this book is so promising, so delightfully told, so perfectly written and described in a mess of pathetic happenings to one man who’s wiping someone’s ass for a living. I thought it had a thoughtful ending, I thought it had a thoughtful storyline with thoughtful characters, and I thought it had a thoughtful concept, which touched so deeply on the intimate details that peppered one’s life, the type of life nobody wants to live but can eagerly learn from. 

36/38

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