Title: So Much For That
Author: Lionel Shriver
Published: Harper Collins, 2010
Shep Knacker has long saved for ‘the Afterlife’, an idyllic retreat in the Third World where his next egg can last forever. Exasperated that his wife, Glynis, has concocted endless excuses why it’s never the right time to go, Shep finally announces he’s leaving for a Tanzanian island, with or without her. Yet Glynis has some news of her own: she’s deathly ill. Shep numbly puts his dream aside, while his nest egg is steadily devastated by staggering bills that their health insurance only partially covers. Astonishingly, illness not only strains their marriage but saves it.
From acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Lionel Shriver comes a searing, ruthlessly honest novel. Brimming with unexpected tenderness and dry humour, it presses the question: How much is one life worth?
You know that moment when you want something so bad, and you’ve put it off and put it off for ages because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the people in your life? Then you decide – screw it. Screw what everyone else wants, this is mine. I want this. So you decide that you’re going to do it. For you. It’s right within your reach. You can taste it. Then when you tell your wife that’s it – I’m going – she replies with “I’m dying”. It’s like a giant cosmic “Ha! You lose!”
This is the position Shep finds himself in. He’s been saving and living the minimalist life for his entire life, in preparation for a quiet retirement in a Tanzanian island, and as soon as he decides to bite the bullet and just go, life kicks him in the knackers. (See what I did there?? Yep.)
This book is an interesting look at the American health system from a couple of perspectives. Glynis has lung cancer. Shep used to own his own business, but sold it to a moron who changed the health benefits to a company that provides for nothing. So his savings dwindle, scan by drug by hospital stay. For what? Will she live? Will this work? Add to this his overly entitled sister Beryl – who feels like life (and Shep) owes her a living.
Then there’s Jackson and Carol, and their daughter Flicka. Flicka has familial dysautonomia, and so they’ve been contending with the American health system for her entire life. Then Jackson goes and gets surgery, unnecessary elective surgery, and… well, lets just say provides some comic relief. In a not very funny way – more sad. Now, I live in Australia, and we’ve got a pretty good health system, comparatively. Room for improvement, sure. But on the surface, functional and accessible for everyone. Equal. Reading this book makes me very glad for that. Having to shell out money for each and every blood test, scan, night in hospital, and health insurance companies looking for reasons to not pay out? Please, someone tell me the American health system isn’t as bad as I hear!
Shriver also explores love – between siblings, spouses, kids, friends. Shep learns a lot over the course of the book, about what means the most to him, how to deal with family, and in life, what is important, and how to stand up for himself. I really liked this book, for me another win from Shriver. She writes well, and is easy to read.
I totally recommend if you enjoy reading about heavier topics – family issues, health, money troubles.