Benjamin Benjamin has lost virtually everything - his wife, his family, his home, and his livelihood. With few options, Ben enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving, taught in the basement of a local church. There Ben is instructed in the art of inserting catheters and avoiding liability, about professionalism, and how to keep physical and emotional distance between client and provider. But when Ben is assigned to 19-year-old Trev, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he 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. As they embark on a wild road trip across the American West to visit Trev's ailing father, a new camaraderie replaces the traditional boundary between patient and caregiver.
Bursting with energy, this big-hearted, soulful, and inspired novel ponders life's terrible surprises and the heart's uncanny capacity to mend and become whole again.
©2012 Jonathan Evison (P)2012 HighBridge Company
"A lively narrative with a poignant core and quirky, lonely characters." (Kirkus Reviews)
Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving was a definite shift from my usual listen. I thought the narrator, Jeff Woodman, did a great job of presenting the tone of the novel. This is the first listen in a long time that I couldn't put down. Generally, I only allow myself to listen in my vehicle. But I broke that rule and listened at home as well. I'm very glad that I listened. I'm looking forward to the author's next work.
The more you love books... the more books you love!
This book is full of pitiful people: a young man stricken with MD, assorted men who can't seem to do anything right, and the poor protagonist, a guy whose life is a chronicle of disaster and loserdom. Given this premise, Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving could have been a depressing and boring book, but it's not. It was warm and funny and very entertaining. I found myself rooting for these characters and liking them immensely.
Kudos to the narrator, Jeff Woodman. He deftly brought each individual character to life -- richly nuanced and completely believable.
There are few parts for women, except as marginal girlfriends, and this book did not read as advertised, especially considering the beautiful cover calligraphy. I was hoping for more of a "Phoenix-from-the-ashes" kind of story with a little bit of spiritual growth, dysfunction, empathy and emotional learnings thrown in. Instead, it's just a bunch of guys hanging out talking guy talk. The fact that one guy has a disabling disease is just incidental.
And I think that leaving out the details of what happened in "the disaster" is just plain ole unfair to the reader, unless there are other factors that attract. Which, of course, there were not.
Perhaps I didn't read far enough but the characters failed to engage me. The story has potential but the scenes were just not interesting. I kept imagining a bunch of guys hanging out in The Uniform - in grey, blue and brown hoodies, athletic shoes, ball caps, (some backwards), baggy pants, drinking beer. No thanks.
I am shocked that (at the time of this review) over half of the reviews for this book give it five stars. Personally, I think four would be generous, but I could understand it. But five? I liked parts of it, but I disliked it as often as I liked it.
For much of the book (the first half more than the second), Ben Benjamin (the protagonist/narrator) can barely observe a woman without saying something demeaning about her appearance. It was so bad that I almost stopped reading. What's worse: the observations of women are often paired with bizarre euphemisms for what the reader can only assume (based on context since I was afraid to google them) are depraved, misogynist sex acts. Although he does this less in the second half of the book, it seems less like character growth and more like distraction due to increased plotting.
I was also frustrated by the many times when I completely failed to understand Ben. Why was he constantly dodging the divorce papers? He knew the divorce was inevitable. He made no efforts to repair the relationship. He just childishly dodged the papers. Other examples (including his rabid defense of Elton) come to mind, but I'll hold off on details to avoid spoilers.
And, for a book that is largely about grieving, I just didn't ever believe Ben's grief. Jonathan Evison admits that "this book represents nothing less than an emotional catharsis for its author," helping him to cope with the grief of losing his sister. The problem is he's working through the grief of losing a sibling as a small child by writing about an adult losing his own children, and I don't think the emotional turmoil translates well. I think that this particular grievance may have been made worse by the fact that I just finished two other novels about grief (How to Talk to a Widower and The Snow Child), both of which felt much more poignant.
All that being said, the story was engaging. Despite regularly considering giving up on the novel, I kept reading. I wanted to know what had happened to Ben's children (I'm pretty sure the horrifying scene is going to stick with me for a long time). I wanted to learn more about Ben's father (he turned out to be such a caricature of a pathetic sad sack that I couldn't really believe in him either). There were touching moments of pain and compassion that made me hope the book would redeem itself. But, in the end, I just didn't like/understand/believe in Ben enough to care.
The narrator was alright, but I can't help but wonder if his delivery contributed to my dislike of the character. Also, he read too slowly (this is the only book I've ever listened to at 1.5 speed).
I selected this book because I loved Jonathon Evison's book, All About Lulu. This book was even better. I was a little afraid because the title made me wonder if the book might be too sad with too many gruesome details about caregiving; yet, to the contrary, this book took the reader through a man's grief of losing his family as he adventured through his days as a caregiver. Ben, the father and caregiver, showed himself to be a father to all he came across as he helped his patient, Trev, come into his manhood and burst through the barriers of his disease. What a journey. Just loved it. This is the kind of fiction that keeps you coming back for more. I learned more about love, life and death while listening to exceptional reading voices and got to know some beautiful and interesting people. More please.
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