The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison, narrated by Jeff Woodman, will definitely go on my list of Best Audiobooks of 2012. It is a wonderful novel, narrated in an award-worthy performance by Jeff Goodman, who perfectly captures the voice of Ben Benjamin, a man cast adrift by grief and remorse.
At age 39, Ben has lost his family, his home, his job, his whole former life – and is about to hit bottom. Barely able to pay the rent on his tiny, rundown apartment and trying to get his heavy drinking habit under control, he takes a training course to become a personal care assistant – one of the few jobs low-paying enough for him to apply for with his lack of job experience and his vague liberal arts degree.
Although Ben tells readers right away that his kids are gone, the story of exactly what happened is revealed very gradually, so I won’t say anything more about it, except what we learn at the beginning – that he bears a horrible burden of grief and guilt. Recognizing all that he has lost, he still hopes for a reconciliation with his wife. Unable to accept that what has happened is final, he had been drinking himself into oblivion most nights, out of denial of the past and to escape a torturous present.
Jeff Woodman does an incredible job as narrator of this novel. He also did the audio edition of the young adult novel I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier and switched easily in that one between the youthful first-person narrator, Adam, and the dry, stern persona of the doctor/official interviewing him in recorded sessions. Here, he has to do the voices of Piper, Ben’s young daughter, and her younger brother Jodi. These must have been tricky voices to do, since Jodi has a speech impediment of some sort that makes him impossible for anyone but Piper to understand. Piper comes across as whiny, but that seems to be intentional, reminding listeners that family life is never perfect, even in retrospect.
I was so gutted by this book that I put off writing the review for a long time, to get a little distance from my emotional response to the story before trying to describe it. It’s a heartbreaking story, but also very funny, with that kind of dark humor that makes you laugh and feel sorrow over the human condition at the same time. When Ben applies for and gets the job with Trev, a horny nineteen-year-old with a progressive, incurable form of muscular dystrophy that confines him to a wheelchair, who lives with his mother Elsa, you might expect all three of these lonely people to be heartwarmingly transformed over the course of the book. Maybe even a medical miracle or two. But, no. While very moving, it’s not that kind of uplifting.
If you liked the oddball comedy of the movie Little Miss Sunshine, or the dark humor and slacker narrative voice of This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, you will probably like this novel.
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
Woodman, Jeff (narr.)
Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving on CD from HighBridge Audio through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.