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So Much for That    by Lionel Shriver order for
So Much for That
by Lionel Shriver
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

I'll bet you think you know as much as you need to know to have a strong opinion about how to change health care in the United States. After all, we all have our personal experiences - friends, relatives, ourselves - with doctors, insurance companies, and those strange physical symptoms that drive us into a doctor's office, terrified that the big C has caught up with us at last. So Much for That, the new novel by Lionel Shriver, just might change your mind, or at least make you think again.

Shepherd Knacker is the son of a minister, who grew up in a home that didn't have much money. His father was able to take the family to Africa on a mission to do good works when Shep was at an impressionable age though. Not so much bothered by the poverty as impressed with the simple, inexpensive lifestyle, Shep falls in love with the idea of some day retiring to a country without strip malls, traffic, and all the encumbrances of modern life. Much to his father's dismay, he starts working as a handyman and saving for this dream without ever attending college, and to add insult to injury, calls it 'the Afterlife'. Shep is so good at working with his hands that his efforts soon blossom into a profitable business. When after many years he sells the business for a million dollars, he invests the money, continues to work at his company as an employee, and begins to try to pin his wife down on a place and time for them to decamp to the paradise in his mind.

Shep's wife Glynnis has a degree in art and is talented at metalwork. She has produced some outstanding pieces of work, but after her marriage to Shep and the births of their two children, doesn't seem able to do much any more other than perform her duties as a dependent housewife. Glynnis is beautiful and Shep adores her, but she has a caustic personality and the certainty that she is owed Shep's love as well as his financial and emotional support. When Shep, tired of her excuses and unable to take the belittling he gets from his new boss (who is running the business that Shep started into the ground) finally buys one-way tickets to his chosen Afterlife destination, her response is that now she needs him to continue to keep working since she has cancer and they will need the health insurance that is provided by his employer.

The book is long, and many parts are difficult and unpleasant to read: the treatment for cancer and what it does to Glynnis and the other health issues of their close friends, Jackson and Carol (who have a daughter with a congenital condition that is slowly killing her) are described in sometimes chilling detail. Poor Shep seems to be taken advantage of by everyone, from family members to friends, his disgusting employer, and the oncologist who's treating Glynnis. He fulfills his role as caretaker in a loving way with a calmness that is sometimes infuriating, simply because some of those to whom he's being so kind seem so unworthy of his goodness.

Shepherd Knacker could be any of us, caught in a cycle of trying for the best outcome while attempting to deal with a maze of insurance rules and co-pays that try his boundless patience and bankrupt his savings. His story is told with acerbic wit that - in spite of the tragedy of his life and the horrible problems of his friends - pulls the reader forward, wanting to know what will happen next. So Much for That may be a diatribe against the way modern medicine is practiced in a country that thinks theirs is the best way, but it's also a good story about a man who loves his wife.

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