It’s easy to spend time with Jonathan Evison–funny, wide open, a facile, chronic topic-jumper. The Brooklyn Pale Ale helped, too.

In this wide-ranging debut episode of The Wordist podcast, Evison spoke about his newest novel, the partly-autobiographical The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and previous books–some of which are now buried in the backyard–plus traded stories about his Seattle punk past (including forming a band with current members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden), the problems with some MFA programs, and the importance of failure in the writing process. The interview is hosted by Michael Kentoff, lead singer of the D.C.-based experimental pop band, The Caribbean.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is Evison’s most personal book yet, tapping into elements of Evison’s past, including the freak accidental death of his sister, the end of his first marriage, and his own experience as a caregiver for a boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The character at the center of Revised Fundamentals, the double-named Benjamin Benjamin, has hit bottom and finds redemption in his experiences helping nineteen-year-old Trevor deal with his challenging condition that is β€œtying Trev in knots, twisting his spine and tightening his joints so that his ribs all but rest on his hips.”

“This book was definitely cathartic,” Evison told Kentoff in our interview. “The book before, West of Here, was such a technical and formal challenge–42 limited points of view, a bifurcated timeline, a very wide scope, very epic, or whatever. I guess I would characterize it as a little more of an intellectual exercise, and a formal exercise. And I’m trying to swing for the fences every time, you know what I mean, I’m trying to reinvent myself every book. To try to attempt that again the next book didn’t seem possible…So I wanted to do a lot of emotional dredging I wanted to push myself in the opposite direction,swing the pendulum back to the heart, and to the brain, and that made it equally hard to write.”

I was very resistant to writing a road novel. Homer wrote a pretty good one, Twain wrote a good one, Kerouac wrote a good one. If you are going to write something that’s been done, there’s some pressure to bring something new to the table.

The fact that a road trip with Ben and Trevor was at the center of the book was also initially troubling to Evison. “I was very resistant to writing a road novel,” he said. “Homer wrote a pretty good one, Twain wrote a good one, Kerouac wrote a good one. If you are going to write something that’s been done, there’s some pressure to bring something new to the table. In the case of this book, you can just feel it, the first hundred pages or so, me trying to subvert the inevitable road novel. I’m trying so hard not to write a road novel, but eventually, the characters dragged me kicking and screaming there because they need the road to deliver them.”

For the readers, no kicking and screaming is necessary. It’s a trip well worth taking.

 

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