The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel

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by Jonathan Evison
     
 

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In The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (soon to be released as a feature film titled The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez), Jonathan Evison, author of the new novel This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! and the New York Times bestseller West of Here, has crafted a novel of the heart, a story of unlikely

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Overview

In The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (soon to be released as a feature film titled The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez), Jonathan Evison, author of the new novel This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! and the New York Times bestseller West of Here, has crafted a novel of the heart, a story of unlikely heroes in a grand American landscape.  

For Ben Benjamin, all has been lost—his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. Hoping to find a new direction, he enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving, where he will learn to take care of people with disabilities. He is instructed about professionalism, about how to keep an emotional distance between client and provider, and about the art of inserting catheters while avoiding liability. But when Ben is assigned his first client—a tyrannical nineteen-year-old boy named Trevor, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy—he soon discovers that the endless service checklists have done nothing to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, sexually frustrated teenager who has an ax to grind with the whole world.

Over time, the relationship between Ben and Trev, which had begun with mutual misgivings, evolves into a close friendship, and the traditional boundaries between patient and caregiver begin to blur. The bond between them strengthens as they embark on a road trip to visit Trev’s ailing father—a journey rerouted by a series of bizarre roadside attractions that propel them into an impulsive adventure disrupted by one birth, two arrests, a freakish dust storm, and a six-hundred-mile cat-and-mouse pursuit by a mysterious brown Buick Skylark. By the end of that journey, Trev has had his first taste of love, and Ben has found a new reason to love life.

Bursting with energy and filled with moments of absolute beauty, this big-hearted and inspired novel ponders life’s terrible surprises as well as what it takes to truly care for another human being.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Washington Post Notable Works of Fiction for 2012
Kansas City Star Top 100 Books of 2012

Seattle Times’ 25 Best Books of 2012

Editors’ Pick for Amazon’s Best of 2012 list


"Engaging . . . The journey is reckless and wild, infused with the sad rage that makes good comedy great . . . As this carload of misfits moves east, relationships are broken and forged, and Ben recreates a kind of family. This could be horribly clichéd and yet it isn't, because Evison never bows to what we expect from happy endings." Jennifer Gilmore, The New York Times Book Review


“Evison’s third and most stealthily powerful novel . . . [is] a book so poignant yet improbably funny . . . [An] adventurous story.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times


"A journey back to life . . . bittersweet . . . It's moving and funny, and, my God, how refreshing it is to read a story about someone caring for a disabled person that isn't gauzed in sentimentality or bitterness." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post


“Evison’s prose is replete with his gifts for witty imagery and turns of phrase . . . With its extremely cinematic plot and collection of quirky scenes, the novel might remind you of Little Miss Sunshine meets Rain Man . . . The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is even-keeled, big-hearted, and very funny, and full of hope. Through Ben, missteps are made, and human foibles are exposed. But we also glimpse that distant shore of hard-earned redemption. For that, Evison’s novel is worth the voyage.”—The Boston Globe


"It's a story of heartbreak and healing . . . This is a novel with a terrific sense of the relationship between comedy and tragedy." The Daily Beast


"Evison has given us a salty-sweet story about absorbing those hits and taking a risk to reach beyond them. What a great ride." The Seattle Times


"Evison has an easy fluidity with the dashed dreams and disappointments of characters who don't ask for pity." Seattle Weekly


"The comic novel may be the hardest work of fiction to pull off well . . . The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a showcase of what makes a good one tick: Characters just a touch disconnected from reality, a prevailing sense of life's absurdity and a handful of rude jokes . . . Evison proves that some of the best comedy emerges from lives that have jumped the rails.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune


“A warm, funny look at recovering from tragedy.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A cathartic novel that will leave readers breathing a heavy sigh of pleasurable release. Its offensive at times, witty, funny, and an excellent example of modern realism . . . Evison offers readers bittersweet highs and tragic lows while illuminating all the sticky, messy passages in between. No matter what you’re in the mood for, pick up this little gem. In less than 300 pages, the weight of the world will feel a little lighter on your shoulders in the aftershock of Ben’s tragedy. Your prospects may seem brighter next to Trev’s grim future. Your eyes will sting from laughter at the dark, unforgiving humor. You won’t have any regrets.”—The Missourian

“A zany road trip from grief to grace . . . [A] sometimes funny, sometimes slapstick, big-hearted novel.”—The Oregonian

“Evison's brand of feel-good storytelling comes from life's trenches, where hope and humor must endure in the face of despair.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Evison has developed the command of craft and tightness of focus necessary to animate quirky characters and outlandish set pieces.”—Philadelphia City Paper

“I think you're going to be hearing a lot about Jonathan Evison's new novel. Reviews will mention the construction of the book (alternating time periods, brilliantly handled), the secondary characters (all vivid), the road trip (crazy and transforming), and the perfect blend of humor and sadness. One of Evison's gifts is creating characters that are easy to care about . . . It’s a thought-provoking story about two men trying to do their best in a world that doesn't play fair.”—Beth Fish Reads


"Luminously moving and very funny." The Rumpus

“Smart and bittersweet and attuned to the absurdity of life — Evison's book is the literary version of a good grunge song.”LA Weekly (“Book of the Week” selection)


"Let's not mince words. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is far and away the best novel Jonathan Evison has ever written . . . It's funny, moving, and lively, the sort of novel that will appeal to avid readers and to people who only manage to read one or two books in a year. The secret, the trick to the book, is in the voice of the narrator, which feels so true that it simply can't be denied." The Stranger

“Evison manages to find considerable humor in this plaintive story of care giving and receiving . . . A lively narrative with a poignant core and quirky, lonely characters.”—Kirkus Reviews

From the Publisher
New York Times Editor’s Choice
Washington Post Notable Works of Fiction for 2012
Kansas City Star Top 100 Books of 2012
Seattle Times’ 25 Best Books of 2012
Editors’ Pick for Amazon’s Best of 2012 list
The Millions “A Year in Reading” list for 2012

"Engaging . . . The journey is reckless and wild, infused with the sad rage that makes good comedy great . . . As this carload of misfits moves east, relationships are broken and forged, and Ben recreates a kind of family. This could be horribly clichéd and yet it isn't, because Evison never bows to what we expect from happy endings." —Jennifer Gilmore, The New York Times Book Review

“Evison’s third and most stealthily powerful novel . . . [is] a book so poignant yet improbably funny . . . [An] adventurous story.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"A journey back to life . . . bittersweet . . . It's moving and funny, and, my God, how refreshing it is to read a story about someone caring for a disabled person that isn't gauzed in sentimentality or bitterness." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Evison’s prose is replete with his gifts for witty imagery and turns of phrase . . . With its extremely cinematic plot and collection of quirky scenes, the novel might remind you of Little Miss Sunshine meets Rain Man . . . The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is even-keeled, big-hearted, and very funny, and full of hope. Through Ben, missteps are made, and human foibles are exposed. But we also glimpse that distant shore of hard-earned redemption. For that, Evison’s novel is worth the voyage.”—The Boston Globe

“An entertaining picaresque and a moving story of redemption.”—The New Yorker

“Allow me to add my voice to the chorus of praise that has greeted The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving…Grimly hilarious.”The Wall Street Journal

“It's a story of heartbreak and healing . . . This is a novel with a terrific sense of the relationship between comedy and tragedy." The Daily Beast

"Evison has given us a salty-sweet story about absorbing those hits and taking a risk to reach beyond them. What a great ride." The Seattle Times

"Evison has an easy fluidity with the dashed dreams and disappointments of characters who don't ask for pity." Seattle Weekly

"The comic novel may be the hardest work of fiction to pull off well . . . The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a showcase of what makes a good one tick: Characters just a touch disconnected from reality, a prevailing sense of life's absurdity and a handful of rude jokes . . . Evison proves that some of the best comedy emerges from lives that have jumped the rails.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A warm, funny look at recovering from tragedy.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A cathartic novel that will leave readers breathing a heavy sigh of pleasurable release. Its offensive at times, witty, funny, and an excellent example of modern realism . . . Evison offers readers bittersweet highs and tragic lows while illuminating all the sticky, messy passages in between. No matter what you’re in the mood for, pick up this little gem. In less than 300 pages, the weight of the world will feel a little lighter on your shoulders in the aftershock of Ben’s tragedy. Your prospects may seem brighter next to Trev’s grim future. Your eyes will sting from laughter at the dark, unforgiving humor. You won’t have any regrets.”—The Missourian

“A zany road trip from grief to grace . . . [A] sometimes funny, sometimes slapstick, big-hearted novel.”—The Oregonian

“Evison's brand of feel-good storytelling comes from life's trenches, where hope and humor must endure in the face of despair.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Evison has developed the command of craft and tightness of focus necessary to animate quirky characters and outlandish set pieces.”—Philadelphia City Paper

“I think you're going to be hearing a lot about Jonathan Evison's new novel. Reviews will mention the construction of the book (alternating time periods, brilliantly handled), the secondary characters (all vivid), the road trip (crazy and transforming), and the perfect blend of humor and sadness. One of Evison's gifts is creating characters that are easy to care about . . . It’s a thought-provoking story about two men trying to do their best in a world that doesn't play fair.”—Beth Fish Reads

"Luminously moving and very funny." The Rumpus

“Smart and bittersweet and attuned to the absurdity of life — Evison's book is the literary version of a good grunge song.”LA Weekly  (“Book of the Week” selection)

"Let's not mince words. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is far and away the best novel Jonathan Evison has ever written . . . It's funny, moving, and lively, the sort of novel that will appeal to avid readers and to people who only manage to read one or two books in a year. The secret, the trick to the book, is in the voice of the narrator, which feels so true that it simply can't be denied." The Stranger

“Evison manages to find considerable humor in this plaintive story of care giving and receiving . . . A lively narrative with a poignant core and quirky, lonely characters.”—Kirkus Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616203153
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
05/07/2013
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
136,651
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

hooked on mnemonics

I was broke when duty called me to minister to those less fortunate than myself, so maybe I’m no Florence Nightingale. And maybe in light of all that happened with Piper and Jodi, I’m not qualified to care for anybody. The fact is, at thirty-nine, with a gap in my employment history spanning the better part of the technological revolution, I’m not qualified to do much anymore.

But don’t get the idea that just anyone can be a caregiver. It takes patience, fortitude, a background check. Not to mention licensing and a mandatory curriculum of continuing education, as evidenced by my certificates in Special Needs in Dementia 1, Positive Crisis Management, and Strategies in Nonverbal Communication. The bulk of what I learned about being a licensed caregiver, I learned from the Fundamentals of Caregiving, a twenty-eight-hour night course I attended along with fourteen middle-aged women at the Abundant Life Foursquare Church right behind the Howard Johnson in Bremerton. Consuming liberal quantities of instant coffee, I learned how to insert catheters and avoid liability. I learned about professionalism. I learned how to erect and maintain certain boundaries, to keep a certain physical and emotional distance between the client and myself in order to avoid burnout. I learned that caregiving is just a job, a series of tasks I’m paid to perform, as outlined in the client’s service plan, a binding care contract addressing everything from dietary constraints, to med schedules, to toiletry preferences. Sometimes, that’s a lot to remember. Conveniently, the Department of Social and Human Services has devised dozens of helpful mnemonics to help facilitate effective caregiving. To wit:

Ask

Listen

Observe

Help

Ask again

I had a head full of these mnemonics and a crisp certificate when, three days after I completed the course, the Department of Social and Human Services lined me up an interview with my first potential client, Trevor Conklin, who lives on a small farm at the end of a long rutty driveway between Poulsbo and Kingston, where they do something with horses—breed them, sell them, board them. All I really know is, that Trevor is a nineteen-year-old with MS. Or maybe it’s ALS. Something with a wheelchair.

I’ve got one more cash advance left on the old Providian Visa before I’m cashing out the IRA, which will only yield about fifteen hundred after penalties. For a year and a half after the disaster, I didn’t even look for work. All told, I can hold out another month before I’m completely sunk. I need this job. My last job interview was eleven years ago, before Piper was born, at the Viking Herald, a weekly gazette devoted primarily to Scandinavian heritage, pet adoptions, and police blotters. The Herald was hiring an ad sales rep at the time—a telemarketing gig, basically. I met with the head of sales in his office at the ass end of new business park on the edge of town. Right away I forgot his name. Wayne. Warren. Walter. Not so much a salesman as a miscast folk singer, someone you might find strumming “Tom Dooley” in the shadow of a cotton-candy stand on a boardwalk somewhere.

“Have you ever sold anything?” he asked me.

“Muffins,” I told him.

I didn’t get the job.

This morning, I’m wearing one of the button-down shirts my estranged wife, Janet, bought me five years ago when it looked as though I’d finally be rejoining the workforce. Never happened. We got pregnant with Jodi instead.

I arrive at the farm nine minutes early, just in time to see whom I presume to be one of my job competitors waddle out the front door and down the access ramp in sweat pants. She squeezes herself behind the wheel of a rusty Datsun and sputters past me up the bumpy driveway, riding low on the driver’s side. The sweatpants bode well, and even with three missing hubcaps, my Subaru looks better than that crappy Datsun.

The walkway is muddy. The ramp is long like a gallows. I’m greeted at the door by a silver-eyed woman roughly my own age, maybe a few years older. She stands tall and straight as an exclamation point, in bootleg jeans and a form-fitting cotton work shirt. She’s coaxed her flaxen hair into an efficient bun at the back of her head.

“You must be Benjamin,” she says. “I’m Elsa. Come in. Trevor’s still brushing his teeth.”

She leads me through the darkened dining room to the living room, where a tray table on wheels and a big-screen TV dominate the landscape. She offers me a straight-backed chair and seats herself across from me on the sofa next to the reclining figure of an enormous brown cat showing no signs of life.

“Big cat,” I say.

“He’s a little testy—but he’s a good ratter.” She pets the cat, who bristles immediately. She strokes it until it hisses. Undaunted, she forges on until the beast begins to purr. I like this woman. She’s tough. Forgiving. The kind that sticks it out when the going gets rough.

“My neighbor has a cat,” I offer.

“What a coincidence,” she says. “So, tell me, do you have any other clients?”

“Not at the moment.”

“But you have experience caregiving, right?”

“Not professionally.”

She’s unable to suppress a sigh. Poor thing. First the lady in sweatpants, now me.

“But I’ve worked with kids a lot,” I say.

“Professionally?”

“Not exactly.”

“Do you have children?”

“No. Not exactly.”

She glances at the clock on the wall. “Do you mind if I ask what led you to caregiving?” she says.

“I guess I thought I might be good at it.”

“Because . . . ?”

“Because I’m a caring person. I understand people’s needs.”

“Do you know anything about MD?”

“A little bit.”

“And what did you think of the class?”

“Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

“I thought it was . . . uh, pretty informative.”

“Hmm,” she says.

“I mean, a lot of the stuff was common sense, but some of it was pretty eye-opening in terms of, you know . . . just different methods and approaches to . . .” I’ve lost her.

“Benjamin, I’ve taken the class,” she says.

At last, Trevor wheels into the living room, a good-looking kid in spite of an oily complexion and a severe case of bed head. He’s sporting khaki cargoes, a black shirt, and G-Unit low-tops. The disease has left him wafer thin and knobby, slightly hunched, and oddly contorted in his jet black wheelchair.

“Trevor, this is Benjamin.”

“You can call me Ben.”

He shifts in his seat and angles his head back slightly. “What’s up?” he says.

“Not much,” I say. “How about you?”

He shrugs.

“Trevor is looking for a provider he can relate to,” Elsa explains. “Somebody with similar interests.”

“So what kind of stuff are you into?” I say.

His hands are piled in his lap, his head lowered.

“He likes gaming,” says Elsa.

“What games?” I say.

“Shooters, mostly,” he mumbles.

“Oh, right, like, uh, what’s it called—Mortal Combat?”

He rears his shoulders back, and hoists up his head, moving like a puppet. “You play?”

“No. A guy on my softball team is always talking about it.”

He lowers his head back down.

“Tell Ben about some of your other interests,” says Elsa.

The instant she calls me Ben, I feel like I’ve gained some small bit of ground.

“Yeah, what else are you into?”

Trev shrugs again. “I don’t know, not much.”

“He likes girls,” says Elsa.

“Shut up, Mom,” he says. But she’s managed to coax him out of his shell. For the first time, he looks me in the eye.

Elsa rises to her feet. “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” And without further comment, she strides across the living room and through the dining room.

After a moment of awkward silence, Trevor whirs closer to his cluttered tray table.

“So,” I say. “Girls, huh?”

He casts his eyes down, shyly, and I wish I could take it back. Poor kid. Bad enough he’s all twisted in knots—people are always putting him on the spot, pushing him out of his comfort zone, pretending that everything is normal, as though he can just go out and get a girlfriend, ride the Ferris wheel with her, and feel her up in the back of a car. Look at him, staring into his lap, wishing he could disappear, wishing everybody would quit pretending. But it’s all just a ruse. Because when he lifts his head again, he swings his chair round clockwise and checks the doorway. Jockeying back around, he smiles and looks at me unflinchingly. There’s a glimmer in his eye, a flash of the evil genius, and I understand for the first time that I may be dealing with someone else entirely.

“I’m crippled, not gay,” he says. “Of course I like girls.”

I check the doorway. “What kind of girls?”

“Any kind,” he says. “The kind who want to get with a guy like me.”

“You mean because of your . . . because of the wheelchair?”

“I mean because I’m horny. But yeah, that too. Do you have a wife?”

“Not exactly. Well, technically yes, but—long story.”

“Is she hot?”

“She’s hot.”

He leans in conspiratorially. “Would she get with me? Do you think she’d get with me?”

“Uh, well, um . . .”

“I’m joking,” he says. “Why do you wanna work for nine bucks an hour, anyway?”

“I’m broke.”

“You’re gonna stay broke working for DSHS.”

“Does this mean I’ve got the job?”

“Sorry, man,” he says. “But I haven’t met all the candidates yet. I like you better than the fat lady, though.”

CLIMBING INTO MY car after the interview, my hopes are buoyed by the sight of a dented white Malibu bumping down the driveway as another candidate arrives from DSHS. The front bumper is all but dangling. The tabs are expired. The guy behind the wheel has a spiderweb tattoo on his neck.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Jonathan Evison is a gifted raconteur with a wicked sense of humor and an unflagging empathy for humankind in all its sad, foible-filled magnificence. In The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, his myriad talents are displayed in full bloom.” —Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers

“The funniest and most tough-minded novel I’ve read in a long time . . . This is his best novel yet.”—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

“Sly and surprising, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is both a goofy road trip and a mission of atonement. Jonathan Evison has the singular ability to make the heartbreaking seem jaunty.” —Stewart O’Nan, author of The Odds: A Love Story

Meet the Author

Jonathan Evison is the author of four novels, including This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, West of Here, and All About Lulu. He lives on the coast of Washington State with his wife and two children.

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