SO MUCH FOR THAT by Lionel Shriver
“You know what they say about life and making other plans.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (MAR 16, 2010)
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver is a timely novel about the dire straits of our country’s healthcare system. It is also a diatribe about our country’s policies of taxation, what the average Joe gets in return for his taxes, and the government’s rip-off of average tax payers. The novel does not spare the evils of the banking industry, corporate America, or the wealthy as they are vilified for creating an environment that harms poor workers and the middle class.
Shep had spent years building up his handyman business. It flourished, and when he sold it he received a million dollars. Naturally, close to one third of the gross payment went to the feds. Shep’s dream was to use his money for what he called”‘the Afterlife,” his plan to settle on a remote island where he could live the rest of his days cheaply and well, utilizing the proceeds from his business. He hoped that his wife and son would join him but that remained up in the air. Meanwhile, until he could accomplish his dream of the Afterlife, he continued to work at his business, for the man to whom he’d sold it.
Just days before Shep plans to leave for an island near Zanzibar to spend the rest of his days, his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with a rare and incurable type of cancer – peritoneal mesothelioma. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and Glynis figures that this exposure occured when she was an art student. She is angry at the world and not a pleasant woman. Her anger is not caused solely by the cancer; Glynis was always a difficult and angry person.
Shep doesn’t realize that his medical benefits have been reduced to a pittance by the new owner of the company. Not only must he stay in network, but the “Usual and Customary Costs” seem to be based on an arbitrary formula that was developed in 1959. Trying to decipher the hospital bills is nerve-wracking. He can’t understand the myriad codes and all the charges. Reimbursement is minimal and appears to be based on what charges “should be,” not what they are in the real world. The costs of medication are phenomenal and Shep watches his money fund account begin to dwindle from its original $700,000+ on a downward spiral. He also becomes more cognizant of all the ads for medications, doctors and insurance and realizes that they are all propping one another up at his expense.
Shep’s best friend, Jackson, has a daughter named Flicka with familial dysautonomia (FD), a hereditary disease found in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Flicka’s life is difficult and she manages to live it with grace and humility. Flicka lives with horrific symptoms. “She did mind waking up with puffy red eyes halfway to conjunctivitis before breakfast. She did mind not being able to talk right when she had plenty to say. She did mind drooling all the time, and sweating all the time.” “She might have been grateful, too, that they’d given up on the chest drainage sessions that had tyrannized her childhood: the tube worked unpleasantly down her nose, the pump’s sickening gurgle and slurp, the grotesque accumulation of mucous in the waste container.” Despite all of this, Flicka is resilient for her sixteen years. However, she’s reached a point where she’s thinking of not going on. The amount of effort, cost, and personal pain that it takes to live is becoming too much for her.
Meanwhile, Glynis is fighting with her life, for her life. She is difficult to live with, nasty and demanding but refuses to let go despite every odd against her. The comparison of Flicka and Glynis is both poignant and profound.
The book, at times, reads like a polemic agains the healthcare system and corporate greed, disguised as a novel. It does make some very salient and timely points. I just wish that more of the book was about Flicka, Glynis and their families, and less about the history of the pharmaceutical, health insurance, medical, corporate and banking systems in the United States. Because this book is so pedantic, it tends to lose its connection with the reader.
The parts that are about Glynis and Flicka are well-written and painful to read. Not only is the reader privy to the agony and struggle of the chronically and terminally ill, we also see the pain and agony that beset their loved ones. This can be a hard novel to read because of its direct and graphic medical descriptions. It is a book for our times and one that is important because of its subject matter and scope.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 50 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper (March 9, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on Lionel Shriver|
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