A Year in Reading: Ben Fountain

Benjamin Benjamin is a wise-ass thirty-something who’s lost his wife, house, livelihood, and solvency, all in the wake of an accident that claimed the lives of his two small children, an accident that occurred in the course of an otherwise normal day in his life as a stay-at-home dad. Out of options, he becomes certified as a caregiver, and takes a nine-bucks-an-hour job as helper for Trev, a 19-year-old in the advanced stages of muscular dystrophy. Are you laughing yet? You would be, if you were reading Jonathan Evison’s excellent novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving instead of my thudding description of the premise. Evison is one of the sharpest writers around, and proves it in pretty much every line of this funny, brassy, unflinching tale of a broken boy and his equally broken caregiver. But broken, with these guys, does not mean finished; there’s plenty of life in them yet, and when they set out on a weeklong road trip from Oregon to Salt Lake City, the story does what all good road-trip stories do, it busts wide into the free air of possibility. Nothing sentimental about this book, just good, honest, punch-to-gut emotion, with amazing adventures and revelations along the way. You’ll get your heart broken several times over in this book, and yet, if you’re like me, you’ll end it with a full heart and a heavy sigh, and maybe a smile. How did he do that? Dunno, but I’m damn glad he did. More from A Year in Reading 2012 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

A Year in Reading: Ben Fountain

Americans live in a dream. It’s mostly a “media” dream at this point, a benumbing i.v. drip straight to the brain of TV, movies, pop music, video games, news “product,” and of course that enormous expanding plastic inevitable collective mind-dump that goes by the name of advertising—are we still exposed to approximately 5,000 ads each day, or has the number gone up since I came across this amazing statistic some years ago?—most of which is worse than worthless when it comes to trying to live an authentic life, i.e., one that might lead us to some functional level of self-knowledge, to some working awareness of what it means to be a human being in the world. Not even 9/11 could shock us out of the dream, and as Susan Faludi shows in The Terror Dream, the dream is such a fixed condition of American existence that it swallowed 9/11 whole. If that catastrophe didn’t shock us awake, what will? Faludi’s dissection of the national id is even almost funny in a twisted, cringe-and-shiver way, until you remember just how much death and ruination have come of America’s years-long wallow in “Hollywood heroism.” It seems that our country became confused—we mistook the characters that John Wayne played in movies for real people, which led us to “Rumstud,” “the manly virtues,” the grotesquerie of President Bush—AWOL for how many months from his National Guard unit in 1972?—being described in Newsweek as a “fighting machine” thanks to a new exercise regimen and a buffed-up physique, Cheney—six deferments for Vietnam!—bemoaning American “weakness” and “vacillation,” self-professed Christians shrugging off “collateral damage” and on and on. At a certain point hypocrisy crosses over to schizophrenia. Are we there yet? Faludi doesn’t flinch. Nor should we. Read this book and maybe we’ll start to understand the country we live in. More from A Year in Reading