Life is something that can’t really be planned. Even when you have a plan, it ends up getting a few detours, roadblocks, and your plan may even drift away altogether. The only way to get past setbacks, disasters, and tragedies is to seek a new context, and focus on the now (and not the how or why).
Benjamin Benjamin (yep, he has two first names) is a 39-year-old guy who’s trying to figure out how to approach life in light of a terrible family tragedy. He’s separated from his wife and dodges all of her attempts to get him to sign the divorce papers. He hasn’t worked in months, getting by on a cashed out IRA and cash advances from an old Visa. Ben isn’t a deadbeat, he’s just a guy wondering what the next step is in his life after losing all that he had before.
He takes a 28-hour night course called “The Fundamentals of Caregiving” and gets a $9 dollar an hour job caring for a 19-year-old guy who is confined to a wheelchair due to duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The novel isn’t the typical tale of a saddened atmosphere surrounding a character with a fatal condition. The tone of the story follows a similar nature of John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars. Although even with the common characteristic of a character in fatal condition, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving follows a different tone.
The characterization is very good. Ben Benjamin is a broken guy wondering out to get out of the hole he’s in. The author interweaves the present day story of Ben’s care giving with his past life as a stay-at-home dad. The reader is introduced to his wife and two kids and gets a glimpse at the cherished, loving life he had before the tragic accident. (Note: This isn’t a spoiler, there is much, much the novel dives into).
Trev, a young guy slowly withering away, yearns for normalcy. He dreams of the seemingly simple things he could do if he didn’t have his condition, things like peeing upright in the way most guys do. When he gets a notice about his estranged father living in Utah, Ben decides to pack up the van and take Trev on a road trip from Washington state all the way to Utah.
Along the way they pick up a handful of characters like a runaway teen (Dot), a bright-eyed cheerful pregnant woman appropriately named Peaches, and her husband, Elton, a guy looking to get rich quick with a seemingly smart business idea.
The novel, with it’s delightful character anecdotes and scenarios, forms part road trip novel, part buddy novel. The characters are real, flawed people trying to find the next direction in their lives. Along the road, the stop for sight seeing and evaluate their next steps.
Trev isn’t cast with the stereotypical brave soul sufferer. He’s real, and the reader gets to experience his want and desires in life. He yearns to experience what “normal” people do. He’s blunt in the way he speaks. When he develops a crush on Dot and creates experiences while living life on the road, he gets a sense of normalcy that he’s never had before.
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is able being open to where life takes you, moving forward in life, finding your place, and forming connections with people that are experiencing the same difficult journey in trying to make sense of their situations.
In life there are a lot of things you can’t control. You won’t be able to control things like when setbacks happen, when things don’t go your way, when failure and mistakes set in and the circumstances your born into. The one thing you do have control in is how you respond to things in life and how you choose to move forward in life. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving ends on this commandment.
Note: In case you haven’t heard, the novel is getting a film adaptation! Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, and Craig Roberts have all signed on to appear. The movie is currently filming in Atlanta, Georgia right now and is expected to be released this fall. Make sure to read the book before the movie comes out!