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 business for a cool million dollars, his dream finally seems within reach. Yet his wife Glynis 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.
So Much for That follows the profound transformation of a marriage, and Shriver delivers a compelling novel that presses the question: How much is one life worth?
©2010 Lionel Shriver (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
"A risk taker with a protean imagination, Shriver (The Post-Birthday World) 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." (Publishers Weekly )
"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." (Deborah Donovan, Booklist )
I have become a big fan of MS Shriver. Her books are hilariously dark and witty. the narrator really performed well and brought these very plausible characters to life. especially interesting given the recent health care debate.
Shep Knacker has spent most of his adult life preparing for “The Afterlife”—his shorthand for early retirement in a Third World country where his nest egg will last longer. Numerous research trips with his wife Glynis have narrowed down the options to an island off the coast of Africa. Yet Glynis always finds one reason or another to delay The Afterlife. Impatient to pull the trigger (after all, he sold his handyman company for $1 million a few years back and has been miserably slaving away for the asshat new owner since then), Shep decides he is ready to start enjoying The Afterlife NOW—even if that means going without Glynis and their teenage son Zack. With one-way tickets in hand, Shep girds himself to do battle with Glynis to convince her that he isn’t willing to wait any longer, that The Afterlife must begin now. However, it turns out that Glynis has news of her own—she’s been diagnosed with a rare but deadly form of cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma. What can a good husband do? Of course, Shep delays The Afterlife. Yet as the months tick by and the balance of his retirement account dwindles steadily due to mounting medical bills, Shep begins to realize that The Afterlife might never be in his grasp.
You just never know what you are going to get with a Lionel Shriver book. After thrilling to the parallel universes in The Post-Birthday World and feeling depressed and disturbed after her stunning We Need To Talk About Kevin, I signed up for her latest book without hesitation. I so wish I’d listened to the reviews I’d read beforehand that said that the book felt more like a diatribe against the U.S. health-care system than a novel as So Much For That was a bit of a slog.
Shep’s best friend, Jackson, takes on the role of pissed-off ranter—launching on these epic rants about Mooches and Mugs (his favorite term for all the corrupt asshats who are sticking it to us idiots). These rants quickly grew tiresome, and I felt that Shriver let Jackson run on way too long. In addition, I thought the ending was unrealistic and uncharacteristic of Shriver. I honestly couldn’t believe how she ended the book. If there was ever a book made for an unhappy ending, this was it. Yet Shriver turned everything on its head and gave these very unlikable characters an almost fairytale ending that just didn’t jibe with the rest of the book. (Well, except for Jackson.)
That being said, Shriver is still is darn good writer. Her focus on little details and her way with words made this book tolerable. However, her writing skills often created vivid and graphic scenes that were almost too much for me to handle. At one point, when Shriver described some bodily functions plaguing Glynis, I felt my stomach turning with nausea. In addition, a subplot with Jackson’s botched surgery contained one too many graphic descriptions that almost turned me off of intimate relations forever. Let’s just say this: you’ll never look at an “Enlarge Your Penis” spam e-mails the same way again.
In the end, this book felt more like Shriver communicating an agenda rather than writing a novel. Still, the lady (yes … Lionel Shriver is a woman … it threw me off the first time I read her books) can write and that saved this from being a complete turn-off … but just barely.
ABOUT THE NARRATION
I thought Dan John Miller did an excellent job narrating what must have been a difficult and long read. His voice was gripping, and I didn’t mind spending more than 17 hours listening to him. In fact, his narration may have kept me in the book longer than if I had read it in print. (I definitely would have skipped over almost any Jackson rant in the print version.) In addition, Miller created different voices for each character, including Shep, Glynis, Jackson and Jackson’s disabled daughter Flicka. (I’ll confess, when I first heard his voice for Flicka, it was a real turn-off and almost seemed like a parody. Yet, as I listened, I grew accustomed to it and thought perhaps the voice brought the character to life in a way she might not have come to life in the print version.) It was amazing to me how Miller could morph into each character’s voices and I’d know immediately who was talking … even between Shep and Jackson.
People who have an axe to grind against Big Government, the health-care system, politicians and the “system” in general … you’ll find an ally in Jackson! I honestly don’t know that I’d recommend this book to anyone. It wasn’t an easy read/listen, the characters were often unlikeable, and the “plot” felt more like a chance for Shriver to communicate an agenda rather than craft a cohesive and gripping narrative. (I’m not saying I disagree with Shriver’s agenda and criticisms. I just felt she bludgeoned the reader with it.) Although Shriver can write, she has written better books than this one.
Lionel Shriver tends to zigzag across a line between tabloid appeal and knowing satire. She dashes on journalistic coarseness like sriracha sauce. She's usually on the edge of overdoing it. Not always; In her heartfelt recent novel Big Brother, which balances empathy against anger in considering obesity, a deeper part of her imagination rose to the surface. It was moving to find this part of her mind anything but coarse .
The new novel So Much for That, however, gives uninterrupted play to laughing scorn. You'll think of hard-edge satirists like Tom Wolfe and Martin Amis. So Much for That is a deep-black comedy about two couples, both being eaten alive by America's medical-financial machinery, but responding according to divergent passions and instincts. There's a secondary liebestod theme , love-and-death within marriage. It is worked against its grain so it won't look like cheap glitter amid the gathering blackness. But it kind of does anyway.
Being the sort of guy who likes vinegar and picante, I got some pleasure out of this book. But some things about it are pointlessly extreme. Some characters are ranters. Instead of stilling them with a jab of satire, the author sends us long passages of unedited blowviation. Editing, please. Greatness in satire is rage under perfect control.
I have listened to a few Lionel Shriver books and she is an excellent writer, good descriptions, surprising metaphors etc. This book had an agenda to criticize the insurance-medical industry and the rant got old. The sixteen hours could have been trimmed to twelve to good effect. The book would have been cogent and compact. Although the narrator has a pleasing voice and good delivery he cannot do a female voice very effectively.
Yes...I absolutely love and respect Lionel Shriver as an author. She is like Donna Tartt meets Ann Patchett with a dash of William Boyd. I feel as if she's able to write with a remarkable vocabulary without sounding pretension nor contrived. The stories flow even if the plot structure isn't set around something that the reader doesn't relate to (i.e. "Big Brother," "We need to Talk about Kevin," "The Post Birthday World"....) love them all!
As an Australian, I am interested in the nuts and bolts of the US health system. However this was just a total showcase for railing against the lack of national health care and the ills of health insurers in the United States. In the end, I just had to stop listening because I got sick to death of yet another character's rants.
Our faces are pushed mercilessly into the repulsive medical details of several diseased characters. We must endure endless crankiness, selfishness, and self-congratulation by truly unpleasant and stunted personalities who are all unhappy about something. This was almost unendurable except I kept hanging on, thinking the rave reviews could not get it so wrong. Well they did. Ugh. Nasty people, nasty diseases, nasty plot resolution through deception. However the narration was very good; this mess was not Mr Miller's fault.
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