The ad in the New York Times for this book caught my eye, which is a reminder in this e-book world of the power of the interesting or well-designed book cover. Mainly it caught my eye because it reminded me of the Everything is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer) cover, but I stopped to look at the ad. Then I realized that it was being reviewed in the NYT Book Review. After I read the review I went directly to Amazon.com and loaded this book onto my Kindle (yes, I get the irony of being attracted to it by the cover, which is lost on my Kindle).
This is all told as my rationalization for why the laundry isn’t done, the insurance check isn’t mailed, and the floor is covered with unvacuumed golden retriever fur. From the moment I picked this book up, I didn’t want to put it down. Ever since I finished The World According to Garp in the 1970s, I’ve looked for a book that so seamlessly and completely blended tragedy with comedy, that made me laugh as it broke my heart. And – this is, to me, a plus – there is no wrestling and no bears (you John Irving fans will know what I mean). It is not hyperbole to say that this is my favorite book of the year.
There are a million reviews out there to give you a synopsis of the story. I don’t know why so many reviewers and bloggers want to tell you what happens, but I hate that and try not to do it any more than necessary. If you want to know a lot about the plot, you should look somewhere else. The title tells you most of what you need to know. The narrator, Benjamin Benjamin, fills in the details in the first chapter (titled “hooked on mnemonics” [sic]) when he applies for a certificate in caregiving:
Conveniently the Department of Social and Human Services has devised dozens of helpful mnemonics to help facilitate effective caregiving. To wit:
- Ask again
As you read, you will understand how and why these fundamentals come to be revised. ‘Nuff said.
Evision masterfully weaves humor and pathos throughout this story – there are more examples than I could possibly give, but here’s a taste:
As a father and son struggle to salvage some sort of relationship, Ben observes, “Bob and Trevor are having a moment, or at least Bob is doing his best to make it a moment, while stuck to the heel of his outstretched cast, three squares of toilet paper stir gently in the desert breeze.”
However, there are other moments when Evision forces us to look squarely in the face of those truths we would rather not ever have to face:
Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this book is one of despair or hopelessness – quite the opposite. Ultimately you are left with the feeling that there is nothing that can’t be overcome. When you close the cover (or slide the power switch) you will feel good, you will have faith restored. You will believe that you can triumph over adversity – or at least survive it. Just remember to ask, listen, observe, help, and ask again.