Friday, August 30, 2013

The Good Guys

When we first meet Benjamin Benjamin in The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison, his wife has left him and he has lost his children.  Because he had been a stay at home dad, he is also unemployed and in need of money.  He takes an adult education class in care giving, and decides to apply for a job as a caregiver for Trevor, a guy who is 19 years old, living with his mother, and suffering from muscular dystrophy. 

Like the mom in Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, Trevor's mom is more concerned about finding someone who her son will get along with than with finding the person most qualified to deliver professional care.  Right away, Trevor and Ben hit it off.  However, soon Ben's personal life gets in the way, and Trevor's mom fires him.  Through a series of clever notes and inevitable disasters, Trevor's dad convinces Trevor to come visit him in another state.  Next thing we know, Trevor and Ben have set off on a road trip. 

On their trip, Trevor and Ben find other lost souls in need of care giving, like Dot, a girl in her late teens who is trying to hitchhike from Tacoma to Denver, and Peaches, an enormously pregnant girl trying to change a flat tire in the rain.  To Ben's surprise, he begins to see that he actually is a mature adult, capable of finding and caring for the people who need him.  The next question is whether he can care for himself.

Although Trevor has muscular dystrophy, all he wants is to be treated like a normal guy.  While Trevor's substantial disability is never forgotten, it is clear that he is so comfortable around Ben, Dot, and Peaches because they see him as a person, not a person with a disease.  This is an especially timely book for the start of the Labor Day Weekend.  I have memories of watching the muscular dystrophy telethon every Labor Day Weekend when I was growing up, and this year I just might need to make a donation in Trevor's honor.

Judging a book by the cover, I expected Fundamentals to remind me of The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.  I could see the van in the picture, I knew that there was a person in a wheelchair, and I expected a cross country road trip to ensue.  But where Homan and Sam stole away on their trip and figured it out as they went along, Ben and Trevor are organized and full of plans.  There are some similarities with the road trip in Beautiful Girl, especially as Ben and Trevor pick up their assorted mix of traveling companions, but not as many as I expected.  When I read the first chapter, about Ben interviewing for the job of caregiver because he didn't think he could find any other job, I immediately thought of Me Before You.  But where MBY tended toward the sappy love story, Fundamentals is a story of guys growing into themselves by gently encouraging each other out of their comfort zones.

What I did not expect, was to be reminded of one of my favorite books of all time, Ready Player One by Ernest ClineReady Player One is a science fiction story about a teenage boy, Wade Watts, living in the 2040s, and trying to win a potentially life changing video game based on trivia from the 1980s. My son just finished reading it, and also loved it.  When he was done, he asked me what other book is like it.  As far as I was aware, there was none.  So, I was thrilled when Ben's character reminded me so clearly of Wade's, even though their stories are so different.  Let me just say that if Wade Watts was living in 2012, and was in his early 40s at that time, he would be Benjamin Benjamin.  They both have the same dry humor, accidental hipster posture, and self deprecating manner that make them characters to root for.

I listened to Fundamentals on audio book, and it was read by Jeff Woodman.  I would listen to him read anything.  He had perfect voices for Ben, Trevor, and Dot, especially.  There were times when Ben's daughter, Piper, began to sound like Dot, but I think that may have been deliberate.

I first heard of Fundamentals when I read about it at River City Reading.  Thanks, Shannon!  I am sure to talk about it lots more in the months to come, and I plan to pick it for The Typical Book Group when we meet at my house.

So, without further adieu, Go. Get. It. And. Read.  God that feels good!  I haven't gotten to say that since January when I read (and loved) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I'm adding Fundamentals to my list of Favorites, and giving it 5 stars on GoodReads.

Next Up on CD:  The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

Still Reading:  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon


  1. I'm glad you had the chance to get to this and enjoy it! It's such a favorite of mine. I never would have thought to compare Benjamin Benjamin to Wade, but it's really spot on. Now you have me wanting to hear the audio version, too!

    1. And I'm glad that someone else who knows Wade doesn't think I'm crazy! Thanks again for recommending this one!


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