So Much for That –

A powerful novel with some pretty tough issues cancer, FD familial dysautonomia , suicide and the health care system in America Although that all sounds pretty bleak, remember Lionel Shriver usually does offer a mostly sober read That is not to say the novel is all bleak it is not While the book is mostly dialogue, it is really strong dialogue from all characters, a couple of the characters do possess a very satiric attitude and that makes for some humorous reading A long novel with some 534 pages, this might dissuade some interest I say, take a big step and read this tome It is no less than all the extraordinary Shriver generally offers a reader a very fine novel.Shepherd has been saving all his life for his Afterlife retirement the ultimate escape to an island off Tanzania Jackson s life has been tempered by the struggle of having a daughter with FD an ultimately fatal genetic disease which robs his child of any vestige of normal life Shepherd s plans are thwarted by his wife s diagnosis with cancer and Jackson jeopardises his family s life by his act of unnecessary male vanity Both these men do show extraordinary amounts of compassion and this, along with Jackson s superb wit lift the story out of the realms of dreary Some might labour through the issues of the American healthcare system and dealing with disease but this novel is much than that it introduces two ordinary men who rise to battle extreme circumstances This is a book I would recommend to all who require something other than a frivolous read A solid 4 rating. Oh, how I wanted to like this book How I wanted to like Lionel Shriver Alas, Lionel Shriver is not a very likeable writer So Much For That is about Shep who has been saving all his life so he can retire early to run away to a place where people bask in the sun and live on a dollar per day and he is now ready to go And then his wife goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like I have cancer So rather than living on a dollar a day, they live on a few thousand a day covering all the medical expenses Glynis now generates.This book is really a rant about the American health care system But not only It s also a rant about taxes, parking tickets, the government, the police, the education system Shriver doesn t even stop there, when she is on a roll no one is safe not artists and not people who misuse the word literally As all that ranting couldn t possible fit in the narrative, Shriver invents the character of Jackson whose main purpose in the book is to rant So there is some ranting in the narrative, then it seamlessly moves onto the dialogue which has this natural feel of people reciting wikipedia articles to each other and then back to the narrative In the end there is only one voice in this book Lionel Shriver s very angry voice And this is my main problem with this novel if you want to write fiction, then create a world, create the characters, send them on some journery If you are just angry at the US health care system, then write essays and opionion columns Don t use the characters as props in your tirade, don t make idiots out of them by having them orate for pages about everything you re mad about As a matter of fact some characters in So Much For That are just personifications of a rant There is Beryl for example, a character so ridiculous and two dimensional that it seems like it was just a spiteful caricature of someone Shriver knows and strongly dislikes.There is constant whining of a middle class who comes to the shocking conclusion that life isn t just There s something especially terrible about being told over and over that you have the most wonderful life on earth and it doesn t get any better and it s still shit Oh, cry me a river Really I have up to here of you and your First World Problems No, said Shep, and changed the subject I guess we re lucky, though We live in the States Hey, we get the best medical care in the world Think again, pal In comparison to all the other rich countries like England, Australia Canada I don t remember the rest Look at all the statistics that matter infant mortality, cancer survival, you name it We come in last And we pay twice as much Yeah, well At least we don t have socialized medicine Jackson guffawed Shep wasn t stupid, but he could be painfully cooperative That socialized medicine bogyman went all the way back to the 1940s, when Harry Truman had wanted to bring in a national health service, just like the Brits Nervous that doctors wouldn t keep raking it in, the American Medical Association concocted this inspired cold war buzz phrase, which had struck terror in the hearts of their countrymen ever since A genius stroke of labeling Like when supermarkets came out with that no frills line, packaging a perfectly standard, decent product in stark, ugly ass black and white, thus ensuring that no one with any class would buy it, at half the brand name price It worked Even Jackson s cash strapped mother hadn t wanted to be caught dead with no frills tissues in her cart You realize fortysomething percent of this country is either on Medicaid or Medicare said Jackson She went on, this World Wellness Group outfit is the health insurance company from hell They levy co pays on everything, including the meds, and we have to fill dozens of prescriptions every month With their whopping deductible, you re out five grand before you re reimbursed a dime Their idea of a reasonable and customary fee is what a doctor s visit cost in 1959, and then they stick you with the shortfall They re way too restrictive about going out of network, and Flicka requires very specialized care Then there s co insurance on top of the co pays twenty percent of the total bill, and that s in network And here s the killer there s no cap on out of pocket expenses Add to that that their lifetime payment cap you know, how much they ll fork out in total, ever is also pretty low, only two or three million, when someone like Flicka could easily exceed numbers like that before she s twenty Well, we had to find other coverage Talking about contrived dialogues There really are good 300 hundred pages of it, and to use the pun from the very book, they are not good pages After that, it seems like Shriver has finally got everything off her chest and run out of steam The plot is set free at last and it is guaranteed you re going to read the last 150 pages or so in one sitting taking in everything including a quite obvious product placement and a sappy ending.It is possible that Shriver was very aware of the shittness of the first part of the book because one of her characters says at some point and let s remember the characters in Shriver s book never speak for themselves, they are just spokespeople for the author You know, these movies He was groping Remember how sometimes, in the middle, a movie seems to drag I get restless, and 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 You don t care about the fact that it started slow, or had some plot twist along the way that didn t scan Because it moved you, because it finally pulled together, you think, when you walk out, that it was a good movie, and you re glad you went See, Gnu he promised We can still end well Having said all that, I will admit the book is a page turner in its weird tedious way But readability is not the way to my heart It s the way to my bed If a book is very readable I can easily find myself seduced and I spend a whole night in my bed with it But after it is all over, if readability was all the book had to offer, we will part our ways and never see each other again what is it with me and all those sexual innuendos lately.Oh Look, I have just found this I should ve read this instead of the book Brilliant. Left it at p 46 and turned my attention to something else, thinking it was maybe my mood influencing the strong negative reaction I was having Alas, no Abandoned at p 66 Those last twenty pages contained hyperbole, overblown language, pontificating and exposition than I could stomach This is the speech Glynis makes to her husband, Shep, after a medical appointment during which she s learned that asbestos is likely the cause of her cancer asbestos her husband most likely brought home to herYou could easily have known, and you should have Evidence about the dangers of asbestos goes back to 1918The evidence was really beginning to accumulate by the 1930s, but the industry had the research suppressed The specific link between asbestos and mesothelioma was made in 1964 That was before you even started Knack By the 1970s, that asbestos could kill you was basically a known factp 55NO ONE TALKS THIS WAY UNLESS THEY ARE READING OFF OF CUE CARDS There are 55 pages of this in the first, ummm, 55 pages.Let s carry on, shall we hey, I put up with it now you can too Two pages laterGlynnis allowed that she wasn t very hungry, but Shep pressed that she had to keep up her strength chokengistitikchokeng 57Allowed Pressed Puh leeze cf outraged yelling Another howlerAt Randy Handy a salacious staff sobriquet so obvious that you d think Pogatchnik would have headed it off with a company name less vulnerable to perversion Jackson had adopted a new perspectivep 62 How many ways is this sentence bad I count five, at least Weigh in with any I missed 1 obnoxious alliteration2 use of overblown, complex language simple words are powerful words salacious staff sobriquets included 3 awkward construction4 character naming Pogatchnik why 5 Jackson had adopted a new perspective Do tell Oh wait YOU ARE TELLING.Going back a step to p 59 because I want to be methodical and thorough in my analysis, given that I am 1 starring this puppy based on a mere 66 pages we are treated to the following two sentences The first, a positively breathtaking exposition from the omniscient narrator, capped off by the second which includes a simile so forced and so apropos of nothing that it actually made me laugh out loud while cringingThe boy didn t know that until a week ago his father was about to abscond to the east coast of Africa, and he didn t know that his mother had just been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer, much less did he know that as far as his mother was concerned, the disease was his father s fault But these hardly incidental unsaids emitted the equivalent of the high frequency sound waves that convenience stores now broadcast outside their shop fronts to keep loitering gangs from the door chokengistitikchokeng 59This is literary territory most akin to little diabetic Jimmy falling down the well and Lassie barking her demand for someone to come with insulin, stat.Now, I ll grant you, pulling those two sentences out and letting them stand on their own does highlight in a rather stark way the mess that is this writing Perhaps those two sentences read better in context, you say, trying to defend Ms Shriver and she is worth defending, based in no small part on the brilliance of We Need To Talk About Kevin Perhaps there was something intentional going on here with the exposition Could it be, you weakly protest, that a point about character is being made Okay, you re right she WAS trying to make a point about the unerring adolescent capacity to detect emotional fraud even when they don t know all the details of what s going on I know she was making that point BECAUSE IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE SHE TELLS ME THATWhat dulled adult ears could no longer detect was unbearable to adolescents, and the same might be said of emotional fraudp 59Oh my gosh, I m yelling again.Many apologies And apologies to Lionel, too And I m sorry to have to go on, but go on I must, because I haven t even talked about the biggie The number one offense that almost caused this thing to go flying off my ninth floor balcony not 45 minutes ago.Page after page after page of platitudes and politics about U.S health care and health insurance The whole shebang every side of every argument, every detail like this is an op ed column, not a novel Co pays, coverages, the health care system of the U.S versus other countries England Australia Canada with statistics Medicare, Medicaid, socialized medicine, Harry Truman, how employer insurance isn t socialized medicine anyway Blah blah fucking blah all of this, ALL OF IT, IN THE MOUTHS OF CHARACTERS.DIALOGUE Yes I kid you not Dialogue that is like narration in a Michael Moore documentary only not as subtle Dialogue that is pretty much unforgivable in a work of fiction that should have CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and the GRADUAL UNFOLDING OF PLOT THAT ILLUSTRATES THEME with if it s not too much to ask some higher than sopho level artistry in the writing that is befitting of a National Book Award finalist and NYT best selling author.I haven t been this disappointed since I read Muriel Barbery s follow up to The Elegance of the Hedgehog I ve read reviews here of those making very similar complaints to mine about So Much For That, and they assure me that Shriver redeems herself in the last few chapters Ain t no way I m going to slog through one page of this to find out.ETA Jul 10 11 I was inspired by your likes and comments thank you to think about why I was so pissed off while writing this review last night I think perhaps Shriver was trying an experiment with the expositional style speechifying of her characters in the same way that the quasi epistolary style of WNTTAK was experimental.Sadly, here her experiment was a huge failure I feel sad about that I think her reach exceeding her grasp literary pretension is getting in the way of what could be great, powerful stories about important and interesting topics She has the capacity to tell these stories, as evidenced by WNTTAK I wish she would just marshal her considerable talent and focus it on the story itself instead of getting all caught up in some kind of elaborate trickery in telling it. Lionel Shriver continues to amaze me This is the 3rd novel, I ve read by her and I need to read We Need to Talk About Kevin was fabulous too she addressed male teenage violence in the U.S and who is or is not to blame on an intelligent basis better than anything else I have read on the subject, fiction or non fiction The Post Birthday World was speculative fiction about a woman and what would have occurred in her life of she had chosen a different path It was not my cup of tea, but was well written and intriguing.So Much for That tackles health care in America and what happens to a family when one of their members, in this case, the wife has Mesothelioma, a costly and deadly disease Not just the emotional and physical toll on the family is revealed, but the actual cost in dollars and how bankruptcy looms for all of us in these cases Shepherd Knacker has always taken good care of his own family and his extended family, while also putting money away for his retirement to an island paradise He is about to embark on his dream when Glynis gives him the horrible news.This is a serious book about serious issues and I don t think I would have liked it as well, but it ends on a high note instead of what could have been gut wrenching. This is a book everyone could be talking about The story is fiction, with compelling characters, yet the parts about the health care system is a decent representation of what is going on in this country today.Parts of this book was difficult to read yet impossible to put down with many tender at moments at times, too mixed with dry humor.It deals with marriage, illness, intimacy, shocking loss, friendships, family dynamics, disillusionment, betrayal, a range of emotions, love, death, choicesetc.One main plot with several other sub plots excellent elyse There are parts of this book that I would actually rate no than 2 stars Sometimes the writing gets overwrought, awkward, and has the characters thinking or talking about the healthcare system or other issues in a preachy, pedantic way But, in the end, the powerful writing and subject matter of the book impelled me to give it 4 stars which, as one can see by my list, I do not give easily If you want to read a gifted writer describe how it is to be a terminally ill patient, a husband caretaker or friend of a sick loved one, this book does that exquisitly well The awkwardness of friends coming to visit Glynis, the sick protagonist is very accurately felt here There is awkwardness and disappointment on both sides What is the right thing to say Friends drop by the wayside and stop visiting as Glynis does not make it easy for them She feels she is very sick and probably dying, and doesn t owe her friends or family any great insight into the process, nor does she feel the need to be polite and entertaining Shep, her husband and caretaker, gives up his dream of retiring to an island, a dream he has meticulously planned for most of his life It is a novel of giving, suffering, sacrifice, regrets,and yes, love The best friends of this couple, Carol and Jackson, also have their own marital and terrible family health problems going on And this novel brilliantly describes hospital experiences and visits with Dr.s imparting bad news with expert, feeling prose This is a powerful novel with something to say The sum here is greater than the parts, and I found it to be very special. Shep Knacker Has Long Saved For The Afterlife, An Idyllic Retreat In The Third World Where His Nest 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 ItFrom Acclaimed New York Times Bestselling Author Lionel Shriver Comes A Searing, Ruthlessly Honest Novel Brimming With Unexpected Tenderness And Dry Humor, It Presses The Question How Much Is One Life Worth POW POWPOW Holy shit, this book I guess I m not all that surprised at my reversal of star rating from 2 to 5 Last I attempted this I was having existential crises twice a week, in the air space between Stavanger and London, while drinking too much, in the winter, alone On a plane I should point out I have never personally achieved flight So when it came to a book about death and taxes, I had NIL emotional capacity This left me in the most dangerous state of all when trying to read a novel being unable to think for myself You ever done that Ouch Don t take anyone s word for shit Isn t it a shame how things work like that sometimes What I needed was some deeply intellectual human understanding, but every time I tried to absorb it I couldn t They ll iron that out in the android version of us surely so it s kl I know your heart s supposed to sink as the chapters progress and Shep s bank account drains with each statement, but not quite as hard as mine did first time around.Anyways, within these pages is some of the darkest, funniest humour, the best twists, the punchiest, original aphorisms and unbelievable justified FURY The humour went completely over my head last time, but dear god, Shriver doesn t give a fuck Every second page sizzles But to that point I skimmed this harder than any book that I enjoyed this much maybe ever It s especially rough in the early sections There s too much harsh alternation between narrative summary and actual scenes with dialogue and a lot of poorly disguised fact dumps spewing unnaturally from characters, and I thought very little of it was necessary But I can get over that Shriver is old school She references some novels towards the end that I supposed influenced this For Whom The Bell Tolls failed it , Absalom Absalom Putting it off , The Idiot LOVED but again had to forgive its ramblings There are also some transparent attempts of Shriver s to rebel against cinema towards the end, which I guess she feels is a lesser medium If We Need to Talk about Kevin s your example, then sure it is It surprises me that novelists feel the need to make some statement about this in Shriver s case that her style errs too heavily on the ornate On one hand I would have thought that if anyone knows the unique quiet evocation of emotions exclusive to short stories and novels the most intimately, it would be short story writers and novelists But also, if anyone is fucking scared about the future of their craft, it s those practising it It s just that all that fear needs to be sequestered to fuck It s a difficult balance.If like everyone reading this now, you are a writer, this novel is a masterclass in dos and don ts If you are a regular reader willing to do some digging, you will emerge with pure gold. , If a series of Facebook rants somehow became a novel, it would be this one At first, all of characters ranting was funny, and even a bit cathartic, but once I realized that that s pretty much all there is here, it grew extremely tiresome and repetitive It finally reached a point at the end where I was emotionally involved, but it s too little too late If this book had been 250 pages long I might have liked it 450 pages of it though, no thank you.