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So Much for That: A Novel Hardcover – March 9, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
A risk taker with a protean imagination, Shriver (The Post-Birthday World) has produced another dazzling, provocative novel, a witty and timely exploration of the failure of our health-care system. Shep Knacker's long-cherished plan to use the million dollars from the sale of his handyman business to retire to a tropical island receives a gut-wrenching blow when his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with a rare cancer. Transformed into a full-time caregiver, the good-natured Shep is buoyed during the illness of self-centered, vindictive, and obnoxiously demanding Glynis by his working mate and best friend, Jackson Burdina, whose teenage daughter, Flicka, also has a terminal disease. Ironically, Glynis tenaciously clings to life, while Flicka, with whom she bonds, wants to end hers. Jackson, meanwhile, acutely conscious that he's going broke, rails pungently against government regulations and the insurance industry. A mouthpiece for the plight of middle-class workers, Jackson's diatribes about contemporary society—the medical, educational and banking systems, exorbitant taxation, political chicanery—ring painfully true. As Shep's Merrill-Lynch account dwindles and further medical calamities arise, Shriver twists the plot to raise suspense until the heart-lifting denouement. (Mar.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Some critics were initially turned off at the thought of reading Shriver's latest offering because, really, how interesting can a novel about health care be? Rather than being pedantic or depressing, however, So Much for That is a thoughtful and powerful look at the effect our health policies have on middle-class Americans. It also raises the unsettling question about the worth, both financial and emotional, of a human life. While several critics thought the secondary storyline involving Shep's buddy Jackson was contrived and others felt that Shriver offered too much information on health care, most agreed that Shep and Glynis's story was "visceral and deeply affecting" (New York Times).
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The main and supporting characters are people we may know and Shriver accomplishes this with clarity of prose and realistic dialogue as well has having a firm grasp of the forces of culture that contribute to our problems. Consider this passage:
"Never knowing when the person you count on to make life seem worth living will suddenly make a rude, unannounced exit and it turns out, gosh, you were right--actually, now life really isn't worth living?"
The book is filled with gems like that. Shep's wife, Glynis, with all the treatments not covered by their insurance causes a vast portfolio Shep acquired from selling his handyman repair company to disappear within months. Glynis is diagnosed as terminal and Shep is fired. The same day, his best friend, Jackson, beset with his own serious problems, commits suicide. A lawsuit was filed alleging that Glynis's illness was caused by exposure to asbestos, which is traced to a particular manufacturer, who wishes to settle.
Through a dishonest and cynical twist, Shep's portfolio is restored and he makes it to his "afterlife", his island paradise, with Glynis (who has only a matter of days), his reclusive son, father who was withering away in nursing home, Jackson's widow and their two sick children, one of whom is not supposed to survive adolescence. The "twist" seems a kind of payback to the oppressive culture Shep wishes to escape.
I intend to read more of her work. The America Shep wishes to flee is the one we live in; many deride him for his "escapist fantasy", those who are blind to the dysfunction and consumerist bloat in which we subsist. Last line: Shep thinks of those people and says "They were all full of s***."
Somehow, Shriver manages to convey the depth of sadness tempered by humor in a way that totally, totally works. We take a journey along with a whacky cast of characters that includes a best friend with a botched male member enlargement, and a full cast of other characters unique in their zaniness. As I find typically with this author, none of the characters if very likeable, but then I don't think that is the author's priority. She makes us think and exercise that brain and at the end of the day, we're better for having gone through the motions. This was a quick, entertaining read that managed to be thought-provoking as well.