Saturday, November 13, 2010

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

So Much For That takes a look at the American health care system through the eyes of two families. First of all, there's Shep and his wife, Glynis, who's been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare cancer. Shep is also dealing with his father, who's at the end of his life and is suffering from the ails of old age. The other family is headed by Jackson, Shep's co-worker, and his wife, Carol along with their children Flicka and Heather. Flicka has familial dysautonomia, a rare genetic neurological condition. Both families struggle with daily worries and medical complications, while trying to keep the medical bills paid and the insurance companies satisfied.

I loved this book. I admit that it took me awhile to get into this story, about 50 pages or so. However, after that I was hooked. Shriver's characters were very believable with powerful and unforgettable stories. I loved that she covered many bases with regards to illnesses. Her characters suffered from various afflictions (genetic disorder, cancer, age-related ails, elective surgeries) giving a broad picture of the health care system. I found I could relate to a few of the cases while gaining insight into many of the others. The whole story was definitely an eye opener.

There were parts of the story that I found absolutely incredible. For instance, there's one moment closer to the end where Shep is talking to Glynis's doctor about how much money was spent on her care and how much longer she lived because of it. I won't get into specifics, but the numbers are astounding. It's not something I'll soon forget. Heather's "medical condition" and treatment were also surprising. I had no idea that sort of thing went on.

Part of the story deals with Shep's desire to run away from it all in something he calls "The Afterlife". His plan (thwarted by Glynis's diagnosis) was to quit his job and move to a third-world nation where inhabitants can live on a lot less money. While I have no desired to move to a poorer country, living a simpler life and getting away from it all does have a certain appeal. I found that Shep's dream added an interesting aspect to the story.

Apparently, Shriver has been quite critical of the health care system in the US and this novel shows her displeasure with all of that. After reading this, I, too, am appalled at what goes on. Don't sick people and their families have enough to worry about? It was so sad that these families had to worry about money and insurance forms rather than taking care of loved ones. It's also amazing what these situations drive people to do.

Our Canadian health care system is quite different from the one in the United States. This book had me asking questions about our system and wondering about the differences between the two systems. There's plenty to complain about on both sides, but after reading this story, I'm pretty sure I know which one I prefer.

Favourite quotes:
So fixing tax rates is all about figuring out how much they can thieve while still leaving us poor wretches enough to keep working so that there's more to thieve next year. The government grows citizens like crops, and you have to leave a handful of seeds for the next planting. (page 157)

New words:
penury (page 85): poverty
hubristic (page 90): pride
garrulity (page 100): verbosity, excessive talkativeness
apocryphal (page 130): mythical
tautology (page 149): linguistic redundancy
ameliorate (page 195): improve
crenulate (page 207): having a wavy edge
rue (page 218): regret
spoliation (page 238): the seizing of things by force, plundering
autodidact (page 255): self-taught person
schadenfreude (page 279): pleasure taking in somebody else's misfortune
filial (page 283): relating to a child's relationship with his parents, filial duty.
elegiac (page 350): sad
insouciance (page 353): rudeness
derisory (page 428): pitiful
vertiginous (page 429): dizzying

I love Shriver's work. I've read two of her other books and would highly recommend both of them: We Need to Talk About Kevin (my review) and The Post-Birthday World (my review).

Highly Recommended. I have several other books by Shriver waiting on my to-be-read shelf. I can't wait to get to them.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Looking for more recommendations, news from the world of books and other fun bookish stuff? Check out The Savvy Reader, the blog from HarperCollins Canada.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins Canada, ©2010. ISBN 9781554682010(Hardcover), 433p.


  1. I loved this one too! It was my first experience with Shriver, but I'm a believer now and cannot wait to read her other books. I'm glad to hear you liked it too--I was curious what the reception would be in other countries.

  2. Thanks for stopping by. Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I hope you enjoy her other books.


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