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Book City: How 'Cloud Atlas' inspired author Jonathan Evison

Evison's "The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving" won a Northwest Book Award. How do his reading and experiences fuel his art?
Writer Jonathan Evison.

Writer Jonathan Evison. Photo: Keith Brofsky

Novelist Jonathan Evison won his second Pacific Northwest Book Award last week for “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”, set here in the Northwest. A former punk rocker, comedy show writer, and caregiver himself, Evison lives and writes on Bainbridge island.

Valerie Easton: What books are lying open on your nightstand right now?

Jonathan Evison: “Big Ray” by Michael Kinball and “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System,” by Paul Fussell. The Kinball book is about a guy dealing with the death of his father, and it’s a real shelf-talker, a gorgeous object of a book. The Fussell book is because I’m gestating a big novel about class divisions in America.

Have you read any truly great books lately?

“Mr. Peanut” by Adam Ross, and “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter.

What makes them so recommendable?

These two writers have so much voice… The timbre and tone of their voices is so good. The books are more than just great stories, although they’re that too.

Congratulations on winning a 2013 Pacific Northwest Book Award for “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” What’s next?

Well, I recently finished a novel called “The Dreamlife of Huntington Sales,” which is kind of a beast, structurally and thematically. I'm letting this one sit for a year or so, before I take a final run at it. Now I'm working on a novel called “Harriet Chance,” which is about an eighty-seven year old widow who takes an Alaskan cruise with her dead husband. I'm really having fun writing this book, and I can't wait to get it in the hands of my readers.

“The Revised Fundamentals” is a such a guy’s book…..

It appeals to women though, because the theme is masculinity and crisis and every woman is an expert on that….

Your eighty-seven year old widow In “Harriet Chance” —  what was more of a challenge? Writing a female main character, or one that’s twice as old as you are?

One isn’t harder than the other if I’m doing my job. Once I climb inside of a character, it’s all empathy and imagination. That’s why I do this….it’s an empathetic window for me.

Which of the books you’ve written is closest to your heart? Why?

I did an awful lot of emotional dredging for “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” — so much that the act of writing the book was cathartic. I don't like talking about some of the stuff, which is why I wrote the novel. The fictive lens gives me a little distance to work with. I wrote an essay for the paperback, which killed me to write.

(The essay is called “Filling Holes”, and you can find it on Jonathan’s web page.)

Can you talk a bit about how your reading informs your writing? Have any of your books been sparked by something you’ve read?

Well, David Mitchell's “Cloud Atlas” was an inspiration to me when I undertook “West of Here.” I love it when writers swing for the fences. Mitchell's big ambitions were contagious. After I read the book, I knew I wanted to write a world-beater.

You mention local locations and scenes in “Revised Fundamentals.” Does living on Bainbridge Island influence your work, do you think?

One thing I love about living on the island is that I grew up here, so my roots run deep in this place and I know virtually everybody. The Bainbridge community has been so incredibly supportive of me throughout my career as a writer, that I feel like I've got a homefield advantage that none of my writer friends in Brooklyn enjoy. Eagle Harbor Book Company is family for me.

You wrote, produced and hosted the comedy show "Shaken, Not Stirred," and your work has been lauded for its offbeat humor. Do you have favorite comic writers or read humorous titles?


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