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The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
Benjamin Benjamin has lost virtually everything-his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. With few options, Ben enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving, where he is instructed in the art of inserting catheters and avoiding liability, about professionalism, and on how to keep physical and emotional distance between client and provider. But when Ben is assigned to tyrannical nineteen-year-old Trevor, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he soon discovers that the endless mnemonics and service plan checklists have done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, sexually frustrated adolescent with an ax to grind with the world at large. Though begun with mutual misgivings, the relationship between Trev and Ben evolves into a close camaraderie, and the traditional boundaries between patient and caregiver begin to blur as they embark on a road trip to visit Trev's ailing father. A series of must-see roadside attractions divert them into an impulsive adventure interrupted by one birth, two arrests, a freakish dust storm, and a six-hundred-mile cat-and-mouse pursuit by a mysterious brown Buick Skylark.
Benjamin Benjamin, the narrator of Evison's tragicomic third novel (after West of Here), describes himself as an "unemployed stay-at-home schlub whose wife gives him an allowance." He's actually even more pathetic, which is one of the problems with this picaresque: at 39, getting divorced, Benjamin is haunted by an immense unspecified loss and eking out a living as a caregiver to teenage Trevor, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. He's good at the job, his first after a long stint as a full-time dad. He and Trevor construct a map pinpointing odd Americana ("Mystery houses, vortexes, crop circles, and other unexplained phenomenon"), more of an imaginary itinerary, given Trevor's condition; Ben and Trevor do finally end up on the road, however, allowing Evison to demonstrate his considerable comic gifts, despite the grimness of the situation. Flashbacks reveal Ben's past (a wife; two kids) and Evison builds a palpable sense of doom, but Ben's heartbreaking personal tragedy is revealed too late to make a meaningful impact. Still, Evison is a skilled, perceptive writer: one girl Ben and Trevor encounter en route notices them "with the expert dispassion of the teenage misfit." 50,000 first printing, 5-city author tour. Agent: Mollie Glick, Foundry Literary + Media. (Aug. 28) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
August 27, 2012
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