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Book Review: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving


Being a parent can be a thankless job. Jonathan Evison explores the parent/child relationship in his new novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. Through the intersecting lives of his characters, he challenges the definition of a “good” parent.

After taking a course to become a licensed caregiver, protagonist Ben Benjamin spends about 60 hours a week providing care for Trevor Conklin, a 19-year-old with multiple sclerosis. The two spend their days watching the Weather Channel, talking about girls (but never actually talking with them) and plotting odd points of interest on a U.S. map—places they’d like to visit, though they know they never will.

But after a comic turn of events, the road trip is on, and Ben and Trevor head east in a handicap-equipped van. They pick up strays along the way, each addition struggling with their own parent/child relationship. And throughout the journey, one of the most repeated phrases comes from both stalwart and deadbeat parents alike: “If anything were to ever happen…” they’d say, never quite finishing the thought.

The most heartbreaking of all is Ben’s story. Seemingly the most stable parent in the book, he was a stay-at-home dad, taking care of his two kids while his wife worked as veterinary surgeon. And then tragedy struck in the driveway. One moment he was unloading groceries, and the next—the unthinkable. It took Ben two years and an epic road trip to finish the thought no parent wants to. “If anything were to ever happen.” Then what?

In The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Evison approaches tragedy and grief with hope and humor.

Beth Golay is KMUW's Director of Marketing and Digital Content. She is the host of the KMUW podcast Marginalia and co-host with Suzanne Perez of the Books & Whatnot podcast. You can find her on Wichita Transit in conversation with other riders for En Route, a monthly segment on KMUW's weekly news program The Range.