Let's not mince words. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (Algonquin, $24.95) is far and away the best novel Jonathan Evison has ever written. This is information that can't be hidden away in the middle of a review, after 500 words' worth of circumlocution. It's clear, and it's obvious, and it's incredibly happy news, so we need to shout it as loudly as we can.
Bainbridge Island–based Evison has written some good novels. His debut novel, All About Lulu, was previously his best work—Lulu wore its John Irving influence on its sleeve, in a very first-novel sort of way, but it had a lot of heart and very little fear, which is just as a debut should be. His second book, West of Here, was at least something completely different, an epic time-jumping story of a small Washington town. But parts of West felt perfunctory or unfinished, like Evison was stretching beyond the reach of his authorial power. It was a flawed but ambitious book.
But Caregiving is flat-out good, without any qualifiers like "debut novel" or "ambitious." It's funny, moving, and lively, the sort of novel that will appeal to avid readers and to people who only manage to read one or two books in a year. The secret, the trick to the book, is in the voice of the narrator, which feels so true that it simply can't be denied.
Caregiving is the story of Benjamin Benjamin, a schlubby on-the-edge-of-middle-age man with a terrible disaster in his recent past...