Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
Last year when I featured Jonathan Evison's West of Here in an Imprint Friday post, I mentioned that I was fascinated with one of the themes of the novel: that the actions of our "ancestors can resonate through the generations." Evison's third novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, intrigued me for completely different reasons. In this case, I was taken with the idea of learning to move past personal hardship by creating new contexts.
Here is the publisher's summary.
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.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.
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.
Bursting with energy, this big-hearted and inspired novel ponders life’s terrible surprises and the heart’s uncanny capacity to mend.
One of Evison's gifts is creating characters that are easy to care about. Ben is one of the more complex and sympathetic characters I've met in a long time. He's a man whose stint as a stay-at-home dad ended suddenly, leaving him to wonder whether the cause was an accident or his own negligence. Then, despite lingering self-doubts, Ben chooses to reenter the caregiving business—this time as an in-house aid to Trev, a young man whose failing body traps him in lifelong dependency. The thing about Ben is that he's good at his job, is a loyal friend, and is a rescuer of those in need, yet he doesn't know how to help himself. He's stuck in place: not exactly a husband and father, but not exactly single and unencumbered either.
He may push Trev to try new things because he knows
that no matter how safe one plays it, no matter how ones tries to minimize risk, to shelter oneself or one's charge from the big bad world outside, accidents will happen. (p. 21)But Ben is far from accepting his own wisdom—until he finally steps out of the protection of the familiar by insisting on driving Trev to Utah. As he struggles to sort out everyone else's problems and to make things right, we cannot help but hope Ben finds the key that will get him out of limbo.
Evison, we can be thankful, doesn't let his novel slip into inspiration. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving isn't about making lemonade, it's about making something else lemony, something different, not necessarily sweet. Ultimately, it's a thought-provoking story about two men trying to do their best in a world that doesn't play fair.
Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.
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