Tuesday, May 10, 2011

{read: fiction} So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

If you've been lucky enough to avoid chronic and/or serious illness or injury, this novel will be an eye-opener for you. Shriver tells the story of Glynis, whose diagnosis of mesothelioma and its subsequent treatment drains her husband's savings account - money Shep had been saving to escape to "The Afterlife," what he imagines to be an idyllic retreat in a country with a much lower cost of living. After many "research" trips, he's decided on Pemba, a Tanzanian island. But now, as Glynis's costly treatments drain his savings since many aren't covered by insurance, he watches his dream slide away. The novel also tells the story of Jackson Burdine and his family - notably, his wife, Carol, and daughter Flicka. Flicka has a rare, terminal illness, and the Burdines struggle under its financial and emotional costs.

The story is told by Shep and Jackson, and just as I was wishing for a chapter by Glynis or Carol (around page 200 or so), we do hear from Glynis. By this time, she's worn out from battling with cancer and side effects from the chemo, and maybe that's why we don't hear much from her own voice.

This is a story of the toll that caregiving exacts on a family, of the cost of healthcare, and of how much a life is worth when measured in dollars and cents. Near the end, Shep asks Glynis's oncologist how much extra time they've bought with the 15 months of treatments, which he estimates at about $2.1 million. "A good three months," the doctor estimates. "No," Shep says, "they were not good months."

This novel has its moments of humor to balance the serious content and a happy ending to reward those who stick it out. I found it almost compulsively readable and stayed up too late many nights, trying to get to the end.

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins, 2010)
My rating: 4 stars

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