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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review: 'Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving'

By Jonathan Evison
Literary fiction
August 2012 hardcover (paperback edition coming in May 2013)
Algonquin Books
ISBN: 978-1616200398

Jonathan Evison's novel of love and family lost and a road trip in which the narrator may get his bearings has some tremendous strengths. It's not a perfect novel. Benjamin Benjamin (shades of Major Major) and his wife had a horrific loss. She's moved on but he has not. With nothing left to do, or lose, he ends up becoming a caregiver to a teenage boy with MS.

There are plenty of sad people in the novel, but the teenager, Trev, is not one of them. Benjamin and Trev hit the road on a sort of odyssey through the seas of sad sackery. The characters they meet are the kind that might draw disdain or even disgust, but Evison shows their full humanity. None are throwaway people, not even the least among them, a convict with a get-rich scheme that Benjamin doesn’t have the heart to burst.

It is frustrating that Evison doesn't reveal exactly what happened in the lives of Benjamin and Janet -- it's easy to know the outcome but there's still a deliberate withholding of information until Evison can line it up with something that happens on the road. Having come across this writing decision in other books recently, it isn't innovative. And based on recent evidence, it's rarely effective. Tell the reader and get on with the story.

Perhaps this is because Evison lives on the west side of the Cascades, but for a novel set on the road, there's little sense he knows the places Benjamin and the others drive through. At one point, they stop at the Big Stack in Anaconda, Montana, but it's placed near Great Falls. Those two places are about 180 miles apart, with Helena in the middle. It was hard to recognize places I’ve known for more than 50 years.

And there are some speeches the narrator makes to the reader that veer toward hokey and “here is the point of my story”. But when with the space of two pages, in two different times and places, it is stated that everything will be all right, the book’s weak points don’t matter. If those other aspects are what Evison needed to get to those two points, it was worth it.

©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Sunday Sentence: George Saunders

Author David Abrams has started a marvelous idea on his blog, The Quivering Pen. Each Sunday, he posts, without explanation, the best sentence he has read during the week.

Here is mine:

"He'd been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could
still be many-many drops of goodness, is how it came to him -- many drops of happy -- of good fellowship -- ahead, and those drops of fellowship were not -- had never
been -- his to withheld.

-- George Saunders, Tenth of December, from the collection with the same title