Every writer would love to sell a lot of books. Bainbridge Island, Wash., author Jonathan Evison nudged into that rarefied territory when his 2011 novel, the Olympic Peninsula-based “West of Here," earned the coveted “New York Times Best-Seller" designation.
That being the case, why would he plan his next book around a story of two people dealing with unspeakable tragedy — a father who loses his children in a car accident, and a teenager with a terminal degenerative disease?
Evison’s new book, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving" (Algonquin, $23.95), was inspired by such a personal loss. His sister died when she was 16 in an automobile accident. “Just watching what my parents went through, and what it can do to a family," he says, “I’m fascinated with wondering how we can survive these irredeemable losses."
Evison did more than just wonder — he wrote a comic, tragic and compelling book about a bereaved father who takes the job of caregiver to a teenager with muscular dystrophy. “Revised Fundamentals" has been acclaimed by critics, and was recently optioned for a movie.
In some ways Evison resembles his new book’s hero, Benjamin Benjamin. He has held numerous low-paying jobs. He plays on a slowpitch softball team like the one that gives Ben male friendship and support. A former musician, comedy writer and radio personality, he’s loquacious and funny, showcasing both traits in a recent phone interview:
Q. The book has been out for about a month now. What do you hear from readers?
A. Readers are loving it. It’s been really gratifying to hear from parents in general, parents who have lost children, parents with children with muscular dystrophy. I didn’t expect the book to review so well, but critics loved it and readers love it. It does scare consumers off when you frame the book; thank goodness for word-of-mouth.
Q. You actually took a course called “Fundamentals of Caregiving," right?
A. I was a licensed caregiver. I took that course — me and a dozen middle-aged women. The character of Trev is based on a friend (and client) of mine named Case, who the book is dedicated to. When I started caregiving I was not on very firm ground. My first marriage had dissolved. I was working at an ice-cream stand in my 30s. I learned that when you don’t have anything to give, that’s when you really give, and then you get back so much more.
Q. “Revised Fundamentals" turns into a road trip in which Ben and Trev pick up a cast of oddball characters. How did that happen?
A. Case and I did take some epic road trips to places like Crater Lake, but my characters dragged me kicking and screaming to the road. I had no choice but to follow them.
Q. You spent part of your childhood on Bainbridge, and you still live there. What is that like?
A. I grew up in the Bay Area until 1976, then I pretty much went all the way through primary and high school on Bainbridge, though like anybody who grows up on an island, I ran the first chance I got. It’s wonderful, and (islanders) are so supportive. The jocks that used to stuff me into a locker ... are my best buddies now. I’ll never leave this place.
Q. What do you hope readers will get out of the book?
A. We live with this idea that everything is indestructible, but we know that ... anything can happen. My goal was to awaken that sense in people again. I think we could all benefit from knowing more often how lucky we are. This book is about driving on in the face of something that makes you want to end your own life. You have to find hope. Hope is such a shape shifter. You tend to look in the rearview mirror for hope, but when it’s gone you have to look forward. You have to get in the van and keep driving on.