From the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003) comes So Much for That, a 2010 novel about the effects of devastating illnesses upon two middle-class families: the Knackers and the Burdinas. Both families, the married couples longtime best friends, are struggling with the emotional and financial burdens of combating life-and-death illnesses.
Shep Knacker, entrepreneur of Knack of All Trades, has worked for decades with a particular goal in mind — a goal that he calls "The Afterlife":
Savings may have gone out of fashion, but surely a middle-class American income still allowed for salting something away. Thus with the application of industry, thrift, and self-denial — once the country's moral mainstays — it should be possible to inflate a robin-sized nest eff to the dimensions of an ostrich ovum merely by hopping a plane. The Third World was running a sale: two lives for the price of one. Ever since coming of age, Shep had dedicated himself to the realization of the second. He was not even sure you called it industry, when you were working so hard only that you might stop working (page 8).Just as Shep is ready to embark upon his dream, his wife Glynis receives a diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma, he has to reconsider his dream of "The Afterlife" for which he has so carefully planned and dutifully labored. Other characters in the book also face devastating diagnoses, and the reader realizes that situations such as that of the Knackers occur more often that we often realize. The struggles go on behind closed doors and, often, closed lips.
Despite the grim topics, the novel is also filled with moments of humor (turns of phrase such as "Tylenol was making as much difference as a handful of peppermint Altoids" and "He was no more pleased that his own wife had picked up the term [inappropriate] than he would have been had she returned from a public pool with communicable plantar warts") and insights about the meaning of love. So Much for That also poses a question: How much is one life worth? Particularly if that life is agonizing, demeaning, and very expensive.
Video book review:
As long-time readers of this blog already know, because of Mr. AOW's stroke at the age of fifty-nine, I found the subject matter of this book of personal interest. Indeed, I wish that I had read this book before now!
Political conservatives may not agree with some of the author's political statements. Despite the book's liberal overtones, So Much for That also includes one character's frequent rants about statism. Conservatives will love those rants, laugh-out-loud moments which lighten the grim topics.
Lionel Shriver does elucidate what deserves consideration, regardless of political leanings: (1) many Americans are trapped in a life-and-death struggle exacerbated by various factors, and (2) everyone with health insurance should scrutinize their own policies.
At one point, the author writes of something that those struggling with a serious family illness rarely put into words:
terribleness, which for outsiders is mere misfortune. This mere-ness that [Shep] sometimes sensed in others had grown intolerable, which was why until today he'd avoided any discussion of Glynis's condition at work (page 129).We never know when our lifelong dreams, "The Afterlife," will be interrupted, curtailed, or, of necessity, discarded. How the families in So Much for That deal with the terribleness that befalls them makes for poignant and uplifting reading. I found this novel important reading because those upon whom terribleness does not fall might otherwise never remotely understand that which so many hesitate to speak of. This book does much to help readers realize what others are enduring — stoically or not.
I recommend this book (with a strong-language caveat).