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So Much for That

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Overview

Shep Knacker has long saved for "The Afterlife": an idyllic retirement on a tropical island in 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 sold his home repair business for a cool $1 million, his dream finally seemed within reach. Yet Glynis, his wife of twenty-six years, has concocted endless excuses why it's never the right time to go. Sick of working as a peon for the ...
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So Much for That: A Novel

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Overview

Shep Knacker has long saved for "The Afterlife": an idyllic retirement on a tropical island in 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 sold his home repair business for a cool $1 million, his dream finally seemed within reach. Yet Glynis, his wife of twenty-six years, has concocted endless excuses why it's never the right time to go. Sick of working as a peon for the company he founded, Shep announces that he's leaving for what they've always tagged "The Afterlife," 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. It rapidly becomes clear that this "health insurance company from hell" 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, for which grave illness proves an unexpected opportunity for tenderness, renewed intimacy, and dry humor, while also pressing the question: How much is one life worth?

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
[Shriver's] managed to take an idea for a kind of thesis novel and instead create a deeply affecting portrait of two marriages, two families, as cancer in one case and a rare, debilitating childhood condition in the other threaten to push their daily lives past their tipping points. Though there is one farcical plot development that is poorly woven into the emotional fabric of the story, and though some of the asides about health care feel shoehorned into the narrative, the author's understanding of her people is so intimate, so unsentimental that it lofts the novel over such bumpy passages, insinuating these characters permanently into the reader's imagination.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
If Jodi Picoult has her finger on the zeitgeist, Shriver has her hands around its throat. Not only does her new book wrestle with actual laws and prices…but it reminds us just how politically argumentative a novel can be. Like Upton Sinclair, she forces us to look at how the sausage is made; if anything, So Much for That is even bloodier than The Jungle…I admire that what [Shriver's] done here is without a dose of sentimentality. Yes, it's gangling and pedantic and far, far too long, but its anger is infectious. If you can take the story's grisly details and Shriver's badgering insight into all things, this 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.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Shep Knacker believes in the "Afterlife" and has spent every moment of his adult life planning for it. But he's not a born-again Christian. Shep's version involves a hammock on a sandy beach in a Third World country where he and his wife, Glynis, can retire and live like royalty for dollars a day. Poised to set his dreams in motion, Shep learns that Glynis has cancer. Now every penny must go to medical expenses not covered by an inadequate health insurance policy. Shriver's (The Post-Birthday World) latest novel is both a realistic portrait of a family dealing with terminal illness and a thorough critique of the American health-care system. VERDICT Shriver's strong, clear writing is marred by several complex subplots and lengthy rants by Shep's best friend, Jackson, who is anti almost everything and dealing with a botched surgery himself as well as a daughter with an incurable disorder. 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/09.]—Christine Perkins, Bellingham P.L., WA
Kirkus Reviews
The American health-care system decimates the emotions and finances of one well-meaning citizen in the latest novel by the provocative Shriver (The Post-Birthday World, 2007, etc.). We open with a bank-account figure: $731,778.56, which is how much 50-something Shep Knacker has squirreled away for retirement. That's a decent nest egg for a professional handyman like him, but he wants to make his savings let him live like a prince. To that end, he plans to move his family to Pemba, a tiny island off the coast of Zanzibar where his dollars will go much farther. But his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with cancer, and the novel's grimly punning title encapsulates what follows: During the course of a year, Shep is forced to abandon his dream as Glynis' aggressive treatments drains his savings. Shriver is captivatingly, unflinchingly expert at exposing how families intuit and sometimes manipulate each other's personality tics, and the novel is at its finest when it shows the parrying between the put-upon Shep and Glynis, who remains a harridan even as her body is ravaged. It's shakier as a polemic against a health-care system that bankrupts families. Shriver embeds the outrage in Shep's friend and co-worker Jackson, who delivers jeremiads on how government and health-care corporations connive against the common man. (The book is mostly set in 2005, before Congress' healthcare reform efforts.) Metaphorically overstating the point that institutional greed affects individual vitality, the book also chronicles Jackson's botched penis-enlargement surgery, and that's just part of the piling-on: It also tracks the miseries of Jackson's ailing teenage daughter and Shep's rapidly declining father. Yet whilethis sometimes feels like an op-ed writ large, Shriver's skill at characterization is so solid that Jackson never becomes a plot device. And the ingenious, upbeat ending smartly shows just how far the rat race separates us from our better selves. An overly schematic but powerful study of both marriage and medical care. Author tour to Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.
Publishers Weekly
Dan John Miller's performance of Shriver's novelistic inquiry into the failures of the American health care system is not to be missed. Miller's vocal choices are perfect for every character, from Shep's elderly, New Hampshire-accented father to severely disabled teenage Flicka, whose fiery intelligence come through despite her slurred speech. When Shep explains his lifelong goal of retiring to a remote, primitive country, Miller's passionate voice, full of determination and longing, makes it clear that this is no whimsical daydream, but a desperate need that is at the very core of Shep's identity. Miller's performance explores every facet of Shriver's multilayered, flawed characters, such as Shep's wife, Glynis, who is an admirably tough, uncompromisingly honest survivor, but also stubborn, rude, and often selfish. A “must-listen.” A Harper hardcover. (Mar.)
The New Yorker
“[A] shrewd, ambitious novel. . . . Shriver’s prose is frank and often beautiful . . . nuanced and persuasive.”
Birmingham Post
“[Shriver] certainly has her finger on national nerves.”
Ron Charles
“The rare novel that will shake and change you. With these wholly realistic and sympathetic characters, [Shriver] makes us consider the most existential questions of our lives and the dreadful calculus of modern health care in this country…. It’s a bitter pill, indeed, but take it if you can.”
Michiko Kakutani
“A visceral and deeply affecting story, a story about how illness affects people’s relationships, and how their efforts to grapple with mortality reshape the arcs of their lives…. [Shriver’s] understanding of her people is so intimate, so unsentimental…it lofts these characters permanently into the reader’s imagination.”
Jocelyn McClurg
“A delicious novel. . . . So Much for That, Lionel Shriver’s improbably feel-good black comedy, is the rare book that can make suicide, near-bankruptcy and terminal cancer so engaging you can’t wait to turn the page. . . . Provocative, entertaining-and so very timely.”
Ella Taylor
“Shriver writes in precise, dynamic prose…. If anyone’s going to perk up the often-limp niceness of the women’s novel it’s Shriver, who has no use for earth mothers or noble victims…. The climax offers more fun, vengeful satisfaction and pure tenderness than any treatise on the future of healthcare.”
Cathi Hanauer
“[An] immaculate, hilarious, and authentically dark new novel. . . . A cast of characters as absurd and entertaining as they are real.”
Mary Pols
“Brave, bold. . . . A page turner. . . . Brilliantly funny and a superb plotter, Shriver is a master of the misanthrope. . . . [A] viciously smart writer.”
Leah Hager Cohen
“Neither stingy with subplots nor shy about taking on timely, complex issues, [Shriver] tosses plenty of both into the pot with real daring and brio.”
Julia Keller
“Harrowing yet riveting.... Wisely, Shriver doesn’t make her characters all saints.... [They] come alive with visceral abandon.... Clever, convincing...stubbornly real-and chillingly personal.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

The cost of catastrophic illness is universally measured in the emotional toll it takes as a loved one sickens and dies. But in 21st-century America it is also measured in dollars and cents. Lionel Shriver's pointed and poignant new novel, So Much for That, is about not just Glynis Knacker's battle with mesothelioma and its effect on friends and family, but also about the financial and medical excesses of the American health care system.

As the book opens, Glynis's husband, Shep, has just bought three one-way tickets to the clove-scented island of Pemba, off the coast of Zanzibar. With Glynis as a semi-willing partner, Shep has long dreamed of The Afterlife, an escape from his petty tyrant of a boss, the West Side Highway, telemarketers. But he and Glynis have grown apart and he has bought the tickets without telling her, prepared to go alone if she won't go with him. The third ticket is for their surly teenage son. But Glynis too has a secret: she has cancer.

Glynis is not a "good" patient. Only Flicka, the daughter of Shep's best friend, Jackson, is able to connect with her. Flicka suffers from a rare degenerative disease called familial dysautonomia. Difficult, miserable and a completely endearing character, she holds her own family together -- and in the end is too willing to assume responsibility for a shocking tragedy that tears it apart.

After a year of grueling treatment (of whose cost almost $700,000 is not covered by health insurance), Shep asks the top-flight Dr. Philip Goldman what he thinks his wife has gained. "Oh, I bet we've probably extended her life a good three months," the doctor answers. "No, I'm sorry Dr. Goldman," Shepresponds. "They were not a good three months."

What Glynis has lost is painfully clear: almost everyone close to her has given up in the face of her ravaged body and embittered rage, her children are distant and scared, her husband feels shut out and compromised by her request not to know the prognosis. Glynis herself, encouraged by Dr. Goldman, tries one futile treatment after another. Cancer is not a battle, Shep tries to tell her, "Dying is not defeat."

As she has shown in earlier psychologically astute novels, including The Post Birthday World, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and A Perfectly Good Family, Shriver has an eye for family dysfunction. Shep's sister, the breathtakingly self absorbed Beryl, regards it as her due that Shep support not only their widowed father but her, even after she moves into their father's house and ships him off to a nursing home. Well-intentioned friends falter and disappear. A sister tries to get Glynis to accept Jesus. A daughter spends her rare visit cooking a meal Glynis can't eat.

One afternoon Flicka is brought to visit Glynis. The two share the kind of intimacy neither can with anyone else.

"So. You get tired of this?" Flicka asked.
"I don't like it when people come here and expect me to entertain them," Glynis complains.
"But if they tell you about all the cool shit they're doing, you get pissed off."
Glynis shrugged. "I don't know what I want. So no one can please me. Funny -- except you."
"Of course," Flicka said casually. "Misery loves."

Many fully realized strands contribute to this sad, funny, compulsively readable book. Its resolution may be fairytale-like, but it is immensely satisfying nevertheless.

--Katherine Bouton

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061458583
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/9/2010
  • Pages: 436
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Lionel  Shriver
Lionel Shriver's books include The Post-Birthday World, Game Control, and the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin. She writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Independent. She lives in London.

Biography

At age seven, Lionel Shriver decided she would be a writer. In 1987, she made good on her promise with The Female of the Species, a debut novel that received admiring reviews. Shriver's five subsequent novels were also well-received; but it was her seventh, 2003's We Need to Talk About Kevin, that turned her into a household name.

Beautiful and deeply disturbing, ...Kevin unfolds as a series of letters written by a distraught mother to her absent husband about their son, a malevolent bad seed who has embarked on a Columbine-style killing spree. Interestingly enough, when Shriver presented the book proposal to her agent, it was rejected out of hand. She shopped the novel around on her own, and eight months later it was picked up by a smaller publishing company. The novel went on to win the 2005 Orange Prize, a UK-based award for female authors of any nationality writing in English.

A graduate of Columbia University, Shriver is also a respected journalist whose features, op-eds, and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist. Since her breakthrough book, she has continued to produce bestselling fiction and gimlet-eyed journalism in equal measure.

Good To Know

In our interview, Shriver shared some interesting anecdotes about herself with us:

"I am not as nice as I look."

"I am an extremely good cook -- if inclined to lace every dish from cucumber canapés to ice cream with such a malice of fresh chilies that nobody but I can eat it."

"I am a pedant. I insist that people pronounce ‘flaccid' as ‘flaksid,' which is dictionary-correct but defies onomatopoeic instinct and annoys one and all. I never let people get away with using ‘enervated‘ to mean ‘energized,‘ when the word means without energy, thank you very much. Not only am I, apparently, the last remaining American citizen who knows the difference between 'like' and ‘as,‘ but I freely alienate everyone in my surround by interrupting, ‘You mean, as I said.' Or, 'You mean, you gave it to whom,' or ‘You mean, that's just between you and me. ' I am a lone champion of the accusative case, and so –- obviously -- have no friends."

"Whenever I mention that, say, I run an eight-and-a half-mile course around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or a nine-mile course in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, I inevitably invite either: ‘Huh! I only run five! Who does she think she is? I bet she's slow. Or I bet she's lying.' Or: ‘Hah! What a slacker. That's nothing. I run marathons in under two and a half hours!' So let's just leave it that I do not do this stuff for ‘fun,' since anyone who tells you they get ‘high' on running is definitely lying. Rather, if I did not force myself to trudge about on occasion, I would spend all day poking at my keyboard, popping dried gooseberries, and in short order weigh 300 pounds. In which event I would no longer fit through the study door, and I do not especially wish to type hunched over the computer on the hall carpet."

"My tennis game is deplorable."

"Most people think I'm working on my new novel, but I'm really spending most of 2004 getting up the courage to finally dye my hair."

"I read every article I can find that commends the nutritional benefits of red wine -- since if they're right, I will live to 110."

"Though raised by Aldai Stevenson Democrats, I have a violent, retrograde right-wing streak that alarms and horrifies my acquaintances in New York. And I have been told more than once that I am ‘extreme.' "

"As I run down the list of my preferences, I like dark roast coffee, dark sesame oil, dark chocolate, dark-meat chicken, even dark chili beans -- a pattern emerges that, while it may not put me on the outer edges of human experience, does exude a faint whiff of the unsavory."

"Twelve years in Northern Ireland have left a peculiar residual warp in my accent. House = hyse; shower = shar; now = nye. An Ulster accent bears little relation to the mincing Dublin brogue Americans are more familiar with, and these aberrations are often misinterpreted as holdovers from my North Carolinian childhood (I left Raleigh at 15). Because this handful of souvenir vowels is one of the only things I took away with me from Belfast -- a town that I both love and hate, and loved and hated me, in equal measure -- my wonky pronunciation is a point of pride (or, if you will, vanity), and when my ‘Hye nye bryne cye' ( = ‘how now brown cow') is mistaken for a bog-standard southern American drawl I get mad."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York, and London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 18, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Gastonia, North Carolina
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University, 1978; M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, Columbia University, 1982
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

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(10)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2012

    So much for that

    This book was 150 pages too long. I had to speed read. All of the social commentary was too much. The characters were well written and the plot good. I am going back to murder mysteries where the social commentary is subtle and not in your face,
    Lionel carbonneau, massachusetts.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Recommended for Book Clubs Everywhere

    "so much for that" by Lionel Shriver is a fictional book about serious matters. The book deals with the frustration and the unfairness of dealing with the US healthcare industry.

    Shep Knacker has worked hard all his life and pinched every penny to retire in an idyllic third world country where his money could last him forever. Glynis, Shep's wife, always found some excuse whey "now" is not the right time to go. Shep had had enough and he announces that he is leaving with or without Glynis.

    But Glynis found out she has cancer and Shep puts his plans aside while his bank account starts dropping like a stone.

    "so much for that" by Lionel Shriver a tough book to read because of the subject matter, however it is well written, interesting and hard to put down.

    Shep, the protagonist, has been saving money all his life in order to retire to a small African island named Pemba where the cost of living is minuscule, that is until his wife got cancer and Shep started to see his life savings of more then $800,000 dwindle away to nothing.
    And Shep has health insurance.

    Shep's best friend, Jackson who has his own sick daughter and is also working for health insurance. Jackson's world is divided between those who take (anyone who is on the government payroll in some form) and those who give (everyone who is not on the government's payroll but pay taxes).
    His political tirades were some of the interesting points in the book.

    Shep's life is full with "moochers" (those who take according to Jackson), his father, a minister, never saved enough to retire, his sister is self centered and expects him to bail her out by "loaning" her money. Shep's daughter is going to college, his son is in private high-school and Shep's wife got a low paying job because, during a fight, he told her she is not contributing. The minor characters are interesting but not very realistic - however they do make the point.

    This book hit me very personally on several levels.
    First, my father, who passed away in December, has cancer for the last two years of his life - which was a real harsh lesson on what "health coverage" really mean. My dad was a small business owner who paid boat loads of money, out of pocket, into the health care system and got very little in return (he didn't get sick often).

    Luckily he and my mom moved out of the house they lived in for almost 30 years and into a 55+ complex, which they paid cash - otherwise they would have lost their home. His medication cost $7,000 a month, his insurance paid 50%.
    Can you afford a $3,500 monthly bill for one type of medication?

    They basically had to show income of less than $1,000 a month in order to survive.

    This taught us a painful lesson - don't get sick unless you are very rich or very poor. Even with health insurance you are likely to go bankrupt, lose your personal fortune and everything you worked to acquire your whole life.

    Second, living in New Jersey, possibly the most corrupt state in the union where people who own their homes outright are being evicted because the preposterous property taxes - Jackson's diatribes hit a sore spot.

    We pay the highest personal taxes in the nation where 50% of them goes to somebody's pocket (corruption tax), 25% are wasted (as per the state's comptroller) and the other 25%, the money used to run the state, is still four times higher than other states.

    As you can tell, I truly enjoyed this book. It is very thought provoking and I highly rec

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Strange subplot and contrived ending

    This book was a tough read, not because it is a 'bad' book but because of its subject -- a family dealing with cancer. As I read the book, it had the effect of making me so thankful for my friends and family. And revealing the main character's account balance at the beginning of many chapters has a shocking and sobering effect on the reader. These things really happen! But I had a problem getting into the story because the book contains a subplot whose culmination is just too strange to be believable, and the ending felt much too contrived. I'm not sure what type of reader this book is for, but this book did not pique my interest in other works by the author. Having never been in a book club, I don't know whether it would make a good book for discussion. Although I could see it prompting a lot of discussion, there are probably better books than this. In summary, while I admire the author for tackling such an unpleasant subject, the book did not live up to my expectations based on other reviews I had read, and I would not recommend it to others.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Characters hit home, sometimes in an uncomfortable way

    This book taps into healthcare and of life care debates in a very real way, but stops from being too didactic because of the way the characters evolve. I find that I never really like the characters in Lionel Shriver's books and virtues are often exposed as flaws. The responsible, I always follow the rules character is revealed as a pushover, the stoic mother holding the family together as cold, unforgiving and out of touch. I think this is book makes a great springboard for discussion on the hot topics of the day but also makes you examine when a good quality tips the scale to become annoying. Shoudl we accept what life throws at us or fight back even thogh it makes people uncomfortable

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    Prognosis is not good

    I wanted to give this book a fair shot as it was a book club selection. And I tried. Characters are unlikable; story is depressing; the prose is wordy; the tone is often preachy or polemical. I enjoy thought provoking books, but this one flatlined.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    Wonder

    This is a wonderful story about a very powerful subject. This author knows how to write and it was a privlege to read her book. Don't miss this one


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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    I loved, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," so was prepare

    I loved, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," so was prepared to be wowed again. Unfortunately, the book didn't deliver for me. Jackson's never-ending prattle got on my nerves after a while. One speech would have sufficed. Moreover, I didn't get Shep's motivation. How could he go from getting ready to leave his wife to self-effacing doting husband? I didn't believe it. I will give Shriver another go because I thought "We Need to Take About Kevin" was that good. But I may wait a while.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Look at my review please

    I am bored. Please talk to me. Headline under char thank you for reading

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2010

    So much for our health care system

    Sometimes I felt I was reading a magazine article about our broken health care system, disguised as a novel. I did like the story, despite the fact I nearly quit reading because the characters pretty much suck, and I had a difficult time feeling any empathy or sympathy. I probably would not recommend it to anyone. By the way, what is the reason the author lives in London? Just curious.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is a powerful condemnation of the American health system

    Shep Knacker has always wanted to go to "The Afterlife" retreat when he retires. His plan to is sell his home repair business and stop driving on one the world's longest parking lot, the BQE. Thus when he believes he can afford to move to the Third World haven he sells his business for a million dollars.

    However, Shep made one major miscalculation. He failed to understand the hidden meaning to the excuses his wife of over a quarter of a century Glynis has given him to delay their retreat from America. He delays his departure for her and continues working for the guy who bought his firm until a tired Shep decides enough. He informs Glynis that he moving to an island off Tanzania. However, Glynis tells him that she desperately needs medical treatment in which his insurance will cover some of the bill. His Afterlife fund shrinks and Shep wonders how he has been trapped in his present life in which medical costs are killing his dream and consequently him; though he admits his complaints compared to his friend whose dealing with botched surgery and a daughter with an incurable disease feel like he is whining.

    This is a powerful condemnation of the American health system that does not attempt to be subtle with its gut shots. At times the commentary feels forced, but as a whole, So Much for That hits home with relevancy as readers follow three subplots that are common problems. Shep watches his dream disappear with health care costs while his best friend lives in a health care nightmare. Although the verdict remains out on the Obamacare protecting more Americans, Lionel Shriver makes a strong case that the status quo denotes failure (and backroom death squad decisions), and tort limitations punishes the wrong party.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Writing reminds me of author John Updike

    In the beginning I wasn't so sure I could read all 433 pages of this novel, but I became enthralled after the first 100 pages. There are many threads to the story and it certainly did remind me of some of John Updike's works. It is a long book but it reads rather quickly and it certainly is a good commentary about American life in the 21st Century.

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  • Posted March 11, 2010

    Lionel Shriver Does it Again

    So Much For That, Lionel Shriver's latest novel takes on the US health care industry, but it is so much more than that. The story focuses on two families who are best friends, and both of which have members battling deadly diseases. Yes, it takes our health care system to task for things like 40% co-pays and reimbursement of "usual and customary fees" for out of network doctors, but it is also a story of love and friendship, and about how illness impacts not just our finances, but our relationships, as well.

    CommitmentNow.com is featuring this book as its Book of the Month and has a great author interview with Lionel. http://www.commitmentnow.com/cooking-parties-travel-fun/features/commitments-book-club-book-of-the-month/feature/our-book-of-the-month-is-so-much-for-that-by-lionel-shriver

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 27, 2011

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