Published by: Algonquin Books
Published on: August 28, 2012
Page Count: 288
My Reading Format: ARC signed by the author at BEA. I was first in line. See the proof below.
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Benjamin Benjamin is a man within inches of falling off a cliff of his own making. The once stay at home dad, Ben finds his life in a spiraling disarray without his wife and children. He is living in a rented space he refers to as the compartment and he has few prospects for being able to continue to pay the rent. He takes a Fundamentals of Caregiving class at a local agency in hope of finding a $9 an hour job. When he does get a job caring for Trev, a young adult with Muscular Dystrophy, it’s only because his competition left more to be desired from than he did. Ben does take pride in his work as a caregiver. He wants more out of life for his client, but Ben continues to wallow in the past. He can’t seem to move forward himself. Instead of coming to terms with his life, he chooses to spend his energy dodging the man his wife sent to serve him with divorce papers because, month’s later, he refuses to sign. He is going nowhere fast and doing a great job ruining the things in his life that are worthwhile. In helping Trev explore what this life has to offer, will he find a way back to himself?
Ben and Trev are not in the best places emotionally when their client/caregiver relationship begins, but they seem to bring out the best and the funniest in each other. Their exchanges about sex and intimacy before their road trip were hilarious and grossly enlightening. Still, the tedious routine they shared wasn’t making anyone happy. Ben’s past and Trev’s future may, in fact, be bleak, but wallowing in front of the Weather Channel was doing neither of them any good. Ben may have thought that he was pushing Trev for Trev alone, but he needed to get out and live just as much as his client. Together they discovered that taking risks and fully living the life that was given to you is the answer.
I happened to read this book at the same time I listened to Dave Egger’s A Hologram for the King. One thing that struck me because I was reading them both at the same time was how much emphasis a man’s career has upon his self worth. It was clear to me that much of Ben’s emotional problems resulted from how demeaning he found it to be a stay at home dad with his children. He never had a career of his own prior to having children with his wife. He had jobs that never went anywhere. Still, raising his kids killed his opinion of himself. Over time, this lack of respect for himself impacted his relationship with his wife and even his children. If he were able to value himself and his work raising his children the way he did with his $9 an hour caregiver position, could tragedy have been averted because he would have been happy and fulfilled?
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a fun, thoughtful, quirky read. Despite the aura of middle life crisis before his time, Ben has a way of looking at things that can’t help but make you smile. Slowly his past is revealed the closer he gets to rock bottom and it broke my heart. I loved Ben well before the end of the book. Jonathan Evison writes his characters with dignity and without pity. He told this story with just the right mixture of humor and heart and I savored every page. Whether it be standing in line at a book signing or taking off on a road trip to see the world’s largest paperclip, if Jonathan Evison is the tour guide, I’ll be there.