43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Engaging
I resisted this book. I read sporadically at first, wondering if my reluctance stemmed from the topic (SO MUCH FOR THAT concerns the bell that tolls for us all) or some flaw in the novel itself. In the end, the voices pulled me in. Even in (especially in) the throes of the most extreme stress, the characters are smart cookies: frank, fast-thinking, often sarcastic, always...
Published on June 4, 2010 by Bookreporter
71 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "You Know What They Say About Life and Making Other Plans."
'So Much for That' by Lionel Shriver is a timely novel about the dire straits of our country's healthcare system. It is also a diatribe about our country's policies of taxation, what the average Joe gets in return for his taxes, and the government's rip-off of average tax payers. The novel does not spare the evils of the banking industry, corporate America, or the...
Published on March 9, 2010 by Bonnie Brody
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Engaging,
I resisted this book. I read sporadically at first, wondering if my reluctance stemmed from the topic (SO MUCH FOR THAT concerns the bell that tolls for us all) or some flaw in the novel itself. In the end, the voices pulled me in. Even in (especially in) the throes of the most extreme stress, the characters are smart cookies: frank, fast-thinking, often sarcastic, always interesting. They are so articulate, they could pass for embittered stand-up comics.
Their territory, however, is not realism à la Jodi Picoult. Lionel Shriver is the anti-Jodi Picoult (each wrote a novel about a high school killer, but how different they are!). I do not mean to malign either writer. I love Picoult's down-to-earthness, how she mixes dinner dishes, soccer games and homework with life's gravest moral and spiritual dilemmas. Shriver, however, is to Picoult what an indie film is to a Lifetime movie. In SO MUCH FOR THAT, Shriver not only nails the expected pain and grief of terminal illness, childhood disease, sexual angst and financial roulette, but also brings out their absurdity.
When Shepherd Knacker sells his handyman company (Knack of All Trades) for a cool million, he thinks he is about to realize his dream (he calls it The Afterlife): to retire to some third-world country where a well-stocked investment account can last pretty much forever. He and his wife, Glynis, have gone on "research" trips throughout their 26-year marriage, but she always finds some drawback. At 48, he can't wait any longer (he has been marking time, working as an underling at his former company and paying too much rent for a suburban house). One day he buys plane tickets to Africa. He is determined to go, with or without his family. But that night, everything changes: Glynis tells him she has cancer, and the word afterlife now takes on a grimmer meaning.
Destiny has also played a cruel trick on Shep's best friend and co-worker, Jackson Burdina, and his wife, Carol. Their daughter, Flicka, was born with a rare genetic nervous-system disorder called Familial Dysautonomia (FD) and requires constant care ("It was like being a doctor yourself but without the golf. You were always on call"). Flicka isn't the blandly adorable dying kid you see in TV's medical melodramas; she is tough, furious, wildly intelligent --- and seriously suicidal.
Flicka and Jackson are two of a kind. His characteristic mode of expression is the rant, and his world view typically divides people into Mooches and Mugs --- those, particularly in the government, who cheat and squeeze and come out on top; and those who meekly accept their lot. His monologues are Shriver's principal mouthpiece for attacking the American health-care system and sundry other ills of modern life. Black comedy is Jackson's strategy for coping with fate. Uncomplaining servitude is Shep's.
Shriver's cutting wit and lack of sentimentality make her book particularly disturbing. Apparently affable doctors deliver death sentences in code (Shep thinks, "[A] doctor was like a handyman who, some appreciable percentage of the time, had to knock on your door and say, I'm sorry, but I cannot clear your drain. ... And then he walks away and maybe he waves, leaving you with scummy standing water in your bath"). Denial is described as "scroll down" versus "skip down." Chemo is "sick" and "surreal" and tantamount to bloodletting and leeches.
There is tenderness, too, but doled out judiciously. Shep's relationship with his aging father is as poignant as his relationship with his narcissistic sister, Beryl, is poisonous. And you cannot help but be moved by his observation, as he and Glynis wait for her surgery, that "only a warm hand on her neck seemed to make a difference. This was a time of the body. To communicate was to communicate with the body." Talk, in other words, has its limits.
Perhaps the core of SO MUCH FOR THAT is Shep's yearning for some protocol that suits his circumstances: "He couldn't see the utility of a civilization that had an etiquette for...placing the fork to the left of a plate, but as for what to do while your wife was sliced open you were on your own." Most of our reference points about illness are drawn from TV ("Cancer in the world of entertainment was a neat one-word expedient for the disposal of characters who had served their purpose...."), so no wonder Glynis's friends and family fall away as her illness progresses --- they have no idea what to do or say.
The downside of Shriver's acerbic, epigrammatic style is that the novel becomes a bit like a series of riffs on taboo subjects --- entertaining and provocative but emotionally unsatisfying. Although the characters are tested by adversity, they do not really evolve, and the parallels between Shep and Jackson, and Glynis and Flicka, are too heavily signposted. I also felt slightly cheated by shifts in tone toward the latter part of the book. First there is the intrusion of a grand guignol shocker (I won't be a spoiler, but believe me, this event is bizarre and off-key --- the plot is not so much twisted as totally distorted), then a sort-of-happy trick ending. Ironic fables are not my thing.
Still, in a world where books seem ever more formulaic, I love Shriver's willingness to take chances. She is to be congratulated for addressing the hard subjects that most people gloss over, and for doing so with complexity, honesty and humor. SO MUCH FOR THAT, with its explicit critique of the current state of medicine and this culture's benighted attitudes toward death, is horrifyingly timely.
71 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "You Know What They Say About Life and Making Other Plans.",
'So Much for That' by Lionel Shriver is a timely novel about the dire straits of our country's healthcare system. It is also a diatribe about our country's policies of taxation, what the average Joe gets in return for his taxes, and the government's rip-off of average tax payers. The novel does not spare the evils of the banking industry, corporate America, or the wealthy as they are vilified for creating an environment that harms poor workers and the middle class.
Shep had spent years building up his handyman business. It flourished, and when he sold it he received a million dollars. Naturally, close to one third of the gross payment went to the feds. Shep's dream was to use his money for what he called 'the Afterlife', his plan to settle on a remote island where he could live the rest of his days cheaply and well, utilizing the proceeds from his business. He hoped that his wife and son would join him but that remained up in the air. Meanwhile, until he could accomplish his dream of the Afterlife, he continued to work at his business, for the man to whom he'd sold it.
Just days before Shep plans to leave for an island near Zanzibar to spend the rest of his days, his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with a rare and incurable type of cancer - peritoneal mesothelioma. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and Glynis figures that this exposure occurred from her exposure to Shep after he worked with asbestos or when she was an art student. She is angry at the world and not a pleasant woman. Her anger is not caused solely by the cancer; Glynis was always a difficult and angry person.
Shep doesn't realize that his medical benefits have been reduced to a pittance by the new owner of the company. Not only must he stay in network, but the 'Usual and Customary Costs' seem to be based on an arbitrary formula that was developed in 1959. Trying to decipher the hospital bills is nerve-wracking. He can't understand the myriad codes and all the charges. Reimbursement is minimal and appears to be based on what charges 'should be', not what they are in the real world. The costs of medication are phenomenal and Shep watches his money fund account begin to dwindle from its original $700,000+ on a downward spiral. He also becomes more cognizant of all the ads for medications, doctors and insurance and realizes that they are all propping one another up at his expense.
Shep's best friend, Jackson, has a daughter named Flicka with familial dysautonomia (FD), a hereditary disease found in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Flicka's life is difficult and she manages to live it with grace and humility. Flicka lives with horrific symptoms. "She did mind waking up with puffy red eyes halfway to conjunctivitis before breakfast. She did mind not being able to talk right when she had plenty to say. She did mind drooling all the time, and sweating all the time." "She might have been grateful, too, that they'd given up on the chest drainage sessions that had tyrannized her childhood: the tube worked unpleasantly down her nose, the pump's sickening gurgle and slurp, the grotesque accumulation of mucous in the waste container." Despite all of this, Flicka is resilient for her sixteen years. However, she's reached a point where she's thinking of not going on. The amount of effort, cost, and personal pain that it takes to live is becoming too much for her.
Meanwhile, Glynis is fighting with her life, for her life. She is difficult to live with, nasty and demanding but refuses to let go despite every odd against her. The comparison of Flicka and Glynis is both poignant and profound.
The book, at times, reads like a polemic against the healthcare system and corporate greed, disguised as a novel. It does make some very salient and timely points. I just wish that more of the book was about Flicka, Glynis and their families, and less about the history of the pharmaceutical, health insurance, medical, corporate and banking systems in the United States. Because this book is so pedantic, it tends to lose its connection with the reader.
The parts that are about Glynis and Flicka are well-written and painful to read. Not only is the reader privy to the agony and struggle of the chronically and terminally ill, we also see the pain and agony that beset their loved ones. There is some comic relief when a friend of Shep's has some cosmetic surgery that goes awry. This can be a hard novel to read because of its direct and graphic medical descriptions. It is a book for our times and one that is important because of its subject matter and scope.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shriver lifts a curtain,
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I loved this novel for its willingness to blow up every cliché and pre-conceived notion and TV pundit talking point associated with illness, death, and the American health care industry. I also can't believe that "So much For That" will be very popular with readers because it so boldly dismantles a notion so many hold dear: the idea of The Good Death.
The ordeal of Glynis Knacker, a fifty-year old with a diagnosis of asbestos-related cancer and access to the best care a cut-rate medical plan and her husband's sizable savings account can buy, is rendered with such detail and authority that it is as if Lionel Shriver had drawn aside a curtain to make us look at details we know are true even as we wish they weren't. Here is the World Wellness Group, a health insurance company whose minions are more concerned with denying coverage than providing it and who specialize in putting claimants on HOLD. Here are the hospital's indecipherable bills and codes for sums that bear no relationship to goods one might buy in any other marketplace. Here is the cancer specialist who speaks in military language and who sees a refusal to pursue a last-ditch, likely-to-fail drug regimen as a "defeat." Then there are Glynis's friends and family, most of whom begin to keep their distance as she becomes more ill, even though they always "mean" to visit. Finally, there is Glynis's refusal to embrace her fate and submit to the false spirituality everyone tries to impose upon her. As her disease progresses, she becomes ever more angry and difficult to live with.
As if this weren't enough, the portrait of Flicka, a teenager born with a terminal wasting disease, is stunning. I have never read any account, fiction or non-fiction, of the complex care of a handicapped child that is as true as this one. And Flicka herself definitely does not fit the poster child model; in fact, her commentary is cut out of a film being made about her disease because she is not upbeat enough. As she grows older, her notion of the right to life includes the right to leave it if she chooses.
Hmm, you say, this novel must be a real downer. The amazing thing is that it isn't, even as it mocks every aspect of the American health care "system." While some parts of the plot do seem a bit contrived, the actual talking (and thinking) is anything but. And there is a lot of it: political, socio-economic, religious, ethical, philosophical. It draws you in, the way good conversation with a variety of viewpoints always does. Much of the energy for these discussions comes from two men. Jackson Burdina, Flicka's father, spouts a kind of anti-government rage that he bolsters with Internet downloads and "facts." His type is familiar enough, but his foil is Shepherd Knacker, Glynis's kind and long-suffering husband. Even though his dream is to abandon his quotidian life for an "After-life" on Pemba, a tropical island, he turns out to be one of the few people in the novel who actually cares about someone besides himself. The ending of this novel is indeed a fantasy, but with this core of truth: a social compact in which human beings truly care for others, succoring the ill, the aged, and the dying, is the measure of a man---and of a society.
Don't miss this novel.
31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More like a polemic than a novel,
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There is an excellent quote in this book, which, while the quote is about movies, comes close to summarizing this book very succinctly: "Remember how sometimes, in the middle, a movie seems to drag? I get restless, take a leak, or go for popcorn. But sometimes, the last part, it heats up and then right before the credits one of us starts to cry--well, then you forget about the crummy middle, don't you?" The problem with this book, however, is that the wonderfully-written ending to this story did not make up for the crummy middle.
The book follows Shep and his wife, Glynis, and their friends and family as she battles cancer, and the challenges this brings physically, emotionally, and financially. First, the good parts. In my opinion, the writing about Glynis's experience with cancer is very, very real and completely accurate. And without giving anything away, the ending of the book is a lovely piece of writing. Additionally, there were many points made in the book about the American healthcare system that I happen to agree with.
However, for the bad points of the book--many times the dialogue on the point of healthcare was just completely overdone and redundant. On and on and on the characters went, blasting away at it. Okay, we get it, let's talk about something else now! I was skipping entire pages because of the repetition. The middle of the book just crawled along with characters bursting out in soliloquy with no movement of the the plot at all. I really do believe that about 200 pages of this book could've easily been cut out.
In short: I'm afraid the book was extremely dull. It was akin to sitting next to someone at a dinner party who bombards you with their immovable opinions on one thing or another, regardless of the fact that your eyes have long since glazed over. I wouldn't recommend the book unless with a suggestion to read the first three and final chapters only.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Editor, please,
This book should have been so much tighter. I felt that way about "We Need to Talk about Kevin" also. You have to plow through, hearing the same themes repeated and repeated. Now, the themes (health care/insurance, taking care of the disabled, the sick, the elderly; the disadvantages of the rat race mentality in the U.S.) are interesting. But I wanted to scream, "Okay, we've got the point. Move on already!" I'm not sure why the editor didn't do a better job with the author. "So Much for That" is a sad tale and a frustrating one in many respects. (Others have already described it above.) Having said all that, I still think it would be a good choice for a book club because it could easily generate a lot of interesting discussions. So, I would recommend reading it, but if you get frustrated with poor editing, then this is not a book for you.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Daring Novel -that doesn't completely work as a novel,
What makes this novel daring? Most obviously, the topic- who isn't interested in the state of American healthcare these days, but how many authors would be able to build a novel around this topic? Also daring is the choice to make so many of the characters unsympathetic- a lesser novelist would be leery of this. Some people may be made uncomfortable by the truths in this novel- about the for profit business of healthcare and insurance, and about the less pretty aspects of human nature, but good literature holds a mirror to us and we should not look away if what we see is ugly. This novel may infuriate you, but it will entertain you and most importantly make you think.The biggest problem with the novel is that the chracters are very underdeveloped ( especially In comparison with earlier novels like "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and are more delivery systems for facts and arguments than believable people. As for plot, the arc of Jackson's character is particularly unbelieveable and the too tidy ending has a tacked on feel. More a novel of ideas than plot or character.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There's a great novel in there somewhere,
I loved Post Birthday World, one of my favorite books of the last year. So I was excited about this one. Once I got passed the rather unlikable characters, and the fact that parents actually named their child 'Flicka' (the cover of that famous book keeps popping in my head when I saw the name), I thought I was reading another winner. But then came a rant. And another, and a few more and more until oh my god this isn't a novel, its a treatise on the horrid health care system in this country. I totally agree with this author's sentiments, but she can express these through describing a situation. There was no need to hammer it in, over and over. I got so tired of the ranting that I decided to do a lot of skimming to get to the end, got the basic gist of it all. And much of what I read aside from the constant rants was poignant, moving and creative. But unfortunately this was no Post Birthday World.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How much is one life worth?,
Although a somewhat difficult and painful read, this story will stay with me for a long time. The characters are disturbingly realistic and their experiences and reactions to the events that transpire in the novel make them seem like they could be your neighbors or relatives. The underlying moral and ethical conflicts in the narrative -- the abuses of the insurance industry and the health care crisis -- are timely and important.
Shep Knacker is a very good man -- the kind of dutiful and responsible guy you'd like to have as best friend, employee, son, brother, father or husband. He works hard, pinches pennies and saves every dime while planning his ultimate escape to Pemba and the Afterlife -- retirement and freedom from all his middle class cares and worries. When his somewhat caustic and pampered artist wife Glynis is diagnosed with cancer, his kindness and obligation are brought to a supreme test.
Glynis enters treatment for mesothelioma (a cancer that has been associated with asbestos exposure) while Shep still has his healthy Merrill Lynch portfolio worth nearly a million dollars -- all earmarked for his planned one-way trip out of the USA. He quickly learns that he won't be able to leave after all because he needs to work in order to keep his health insurance for Glynis's fight against the cancer. He nobly accepts his care-taking role and soon finds himself at odds with work and his family and friends because of the tremendous pressure and stress on him to continue to provide. Inexorably, we see that Shep is slowly being metaphorically exsanguinated (bled dry) by all the demands placed on him at work, at home with Glynis, with his sister and father, by his children, and with his best friend Jackson. In addition, there goes the bank account -- draining dollar by dollar for drugs and treatments that don't seem to be doing much.
At the heart of this novel is the question -- how much is one willing to pay for a few extra hours, days, weeks or months of life? How much is one person's life worth and when is enough good enough? As Shep continues to take care of the bills and the people in his life, he becomes more resigned and trapped by the realization that even after Glynis dies, he still won't be able to escape to Pemba because he will be completely broke. And to what end? Glynis is still going to die.
I really cared about the people in this novel. There are other side plots dealing with Shep's friend Jackson and Jackson's family, Shep's sister and father that also provided insight into the character of a man who indeed "shepherds" those he cares for. It was neither an easy read nor a particularly uplifting one. It was, however, a poignant testimony to the power of love and the virtue of duty. I recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unrelentingly depressing,
This review is from: So Much for That: A Novel (Hardcover)
Although the concept was interesting, the book was much too long and pedantic - where was the editor? None of the characters are likable. This could have been two books - one, purely informative about health care and a second, with a story line. There was also a secondary story line which I just didn't get the purpose of at all. Some people obviously have liked the book - for me, it was much too cynical and depressing and could have been a hundred pages shorter.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is this a novel or a treatise?,
This book takes us into the marriage of Shep and Glynis Knacker, together for 26 years, and for the most part, still in love with each other. Shep, having sold the business he built from the ground up, has been working there as an employee and building files on places he and Glynis have traveled, to determine the "Afterlife," the perfect out of the way place for them to retire. Tickets to his island paradise already purchased, Shep is slapped in the face with bad news: Glynis doesn't really want to pick up and go, and she's been diagnosed with mesothelioma and needs Shep to continue working so that they will have health insurance to cover at least some of her medical expenses, which will be devastating.
Meanwhile, the Knackers' good friends, Jackson and Carol are dealing with a multiply-handicapped teenager of their own, and have long known the high price families pay, both personally and cash-wise, for ongoing medical care. Jackson and Shep have long conversations in which Shep is schooled by the vociferous rants of Jackson, whose bitterness about the American health system cannot be bottled up. What Jackson doesn't share with Shep or his own wife is a medical decision he makes on his own that has disastrous consequences for his family.
Most of the book is concerned with Glynis and Shep, and it is a powerful, unflinching look at the ravages of cancer, its treatments, the falling away of 'friends', and the toll paid by everyone concerned. Shriver makes Glynis a wonderful anti-hero, a woman who will not abide any false sweet talk about her "brave battle" but who remains enchanted by her doctor's peppy attitude for way too long. Shep's love for his wife is here, but so are his mounting concerns about money as he watches his nest egg slip away.
The ongoing Jackson drama and his constant ravings become annoying and do not really add anything to the story. This book could have done with less of that and still been about its characters and the health care dilemma in this country. No need for such pounding over the head. In the end, I liked the way things were resolved, not without tragedy, but with some solid human victories as well.
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So Much for That: A Novel by Lionel Shriver (Hardcover - March 9, 2010)