In the end, it’s satisfying

2010-07-21 00:00


So Much For That

Lionel Shriver

Harper Collins

A CHARACTER in this novel makes a comment about certain types of films: “You know those movies … how sometimes in the middle [they] seem to drag? But sometimes the last part, it heats up, and then right before the credits one of us starts to cry — well, then you forget about the crummy middle, don’t you?” Shriver could not have ­written a more apt description of So Much For That.

It is an unusual novel, dealing with three people dying. One is Glynis, the wife of one of the main characters, Shep, who finds out that she has terminal mesothelioma. The other is Flicka, the teenage daughter of the second protagonist, Jackson. She has familial dysautonomia, a rare degenerative disease. Lastly, there is Shep’s aging father who ­contracts a vicious super-bug. This novel is not for the faint-hearted.

Hardworking Shep Knacker has saved all his life for the “Afterlife” as he calls it. He plans to leave his hardware-store existence to flee to Pemba, a small island off the coast of Tanzania. Just as he is about to leave for Pemba, Glynis reveals that she has terminal cancer. That’s the end of Shep’s dream, it seems. After a year of treatment at the hands of the United States Health Care system (or lack of it), Shep is left bankrupt. And Glynis’s health is even worse.

Shep’s best friend Jackson has problems of his own. An attempt to enhance his, um, assets goes horribly wrong, and his wife Carol can’t bear to be near him. This blow is worse than even his daughter’s ­imminent death. He decides to find his own afterlife.

Lionel Shiver is a powerful author but her book wanes in the middle. The end, however, is powerful and deeply satisfying. And so, as Shep says, “You don’t care about the fact that it started slow … Because it moved you, because it finally pulled to­gether…”

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