Summary and book reviews of So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

So Much for That

A Novel

By Lionel Shriver

So Much for That
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2011,
    448 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Book Summary

Shep Knacker has long saved for "The Afterlife": an idyllic retreat to the Third World where his nest egg can last forever. Traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be replaced with "talking, thinking, seeing, and being"—and enough sleep. When he sells his home repair business for a cool million dollars, his dream finally seems within reach. Yet Glynis, his wife of twenty-six years, has concocted endless excuses why it's never the right time to go. Weary of working as a peon for the jerk who bought his company, Shep announces he's leaving for a Tanzanian island, with or without her.

Just returned from a doctor's appointment, Glynis has some news of her own: Shep can't go anywhere because she desperately needs his health insurance. But their policy only partially covers the staggering bills for her treatments, and Shep's nest egg for The Afterlife soon cracks under the strain.

Enriched with three medical subplots that also explore the human costs of American health care, So Much for That follows the profound transformation of a marriage, for which grave illness proves an unexpected opportunity for tenderness, renewed intimacy, and dry humor. In defiance of her dark subject matter, Shriver writes a page-turner that presses the question: How much is one life worth?

Chapter One

Shepherd Armstrong Knacker
Merrill Lynch Account Number 934-23F917
December 01, 2004 – December 31, 2004
Net Portfolio Value: $731,778.56

What do you pack for the rest of your life?

On research trips -- he and Glynis had never called them "vacations" -- Shep had always packed too much, covering for every contingency: rain gear, a sweater on the off chance that the weather in Puerto Escondido was unseasonably cold. In the face of infinite contingencies, his impulse was to take nothing.

There was no rational reason to be creeping these halls stealthily like a thief come to burgle his own home -- padding heel to toe on the floorboards, flinching when they creaked. He had double-checked that Glynis was out through early evening (for an "appointment"; it bothered him that she did not say with whom or where). Calling on a weak pretense of asking about dinner plans when their son hadn't eaten a proper meal with his parents for the last year, he had confirmed that...

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Reviews

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Given the acrid tone and complex implications of the current debates on health care, it's clear that these issues will remain with us for a long time to come; by melding the political with the personal, Shriver's novel, in the way of the very best topical fiction, will bring the matter home, to people's dining room tables and living room sofas, as families and book clubs and friends debate - using the tools of fiction - the issue that will define our times.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review Members Only (898 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Leah Hager Cohen

Shriver... tackles her multifaceted plot with energy and grit. She can and does hold forth smartly on any number of subjects, both topical and esoteric. The book doesn’t suffer from vapidity or diffidence or dearth of event. What it lacks is a fullness of wisdom about its characters’ potential for growth. If none of the characters are particularly becoming, it may be because none become in any meaningful way over the course of the book.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

[T]he author's understanding of her people is so intimate, so unsentimental that it lofts the novel over ...bumpy passages, insinuating these characters permanently into the reader's imagination.

Los Angeles Times

Shriver, who writes in precise, dynamic prose that reads almost like literary journalism, can be heartless too, and sometimes her forthright dialogue tips over into cheap shock tactics... the denouement... hovers around the implausible. But page for crazy page, the climax offers more fun, vengeful satisfaction and pure tenderness than any treatise on the future of healthcare.

NPR

... raises searching questions about the value of a human life and government's role in a democracy. It is filled with facts about cancer treatments and copayments, but Shriver does not allow this research to clog the arteries of her novel, which pulses with vivid characters. Readers may wish, however, that Shriver had cauterized some of their diatribes.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

[T]his is the rare novel that will shake and change you. With these wholly realistic and sympathetic characters, she makes us consider the most existential questions of our lives and the dreadful calculus of modern health care in this country.

Publishers Weekly

A risk taker with a protean imagination, Shriver ...has produced another dazzling, provocative novel, a witty and timely exploration of the failure of our health-care system. ... Shriver twists the plot to raise suspense until the heart-lifting denouement.

Booklist

Exceptionally timely ... Exposing the many deficiencies in the American health-care system . . . Shriver perceptively dissects every facet of Glynis' illness ... immersing the reader in how this family deals with terminal disease, and its rippling effects.

Library Journal

Readers who prefer a more focused plot will want to stick with Jodi Picoult, but Shriver's fans and others willing to follow the author's turns will find themselves thinking about the novel long after they've finished it.

Kirkus Reviews

An overly schematic but powerful study of both marriage and medical care.

The London Times (UK)

Wide-ranging, sometimes zany and unpredictable, this is a compelling read... it goes about the business of deconstructing the meaning of life very quietly, with humour and a degree of humility. All this is explored in lavish detail, with no pat answers. It finishes with a wonderful moral that Shriver succeeds in proving brilliantly.

Reader Reviews
Michele LC

Powerful
After reading We Need to Talk About Kevin for my book group, I searched for more titles by Lionel Shriver and immediately requested her newest book, So Much for That. This book hooked me from the first line and I could not put this book down for ...   Read More

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Mesothelioma & Familial Dysautonomia

Two devastating diseases precipitate the health care crises of So Much for That. Glynis develops mesothelioma, a type of invasive cancer that is associated with exposure to asbestos. This type of cancer typically starts in the lungs but can affect the entire mesothelium - the tissue that lines many internal organs. Not only is mesothelioma notoriously difficult to treat, it's also hard to pinpoint its exact cause, since its onset typically happens 30 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. In Shriver's novel, Glynis, an artist who works with metal, was exposed to the hazardous substance in the studio as an art student, although she initially blames her husband Shep for introducing the toxin through his work in the home construction ...

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