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Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
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A-So Much for ThatAn American journalist and novelist, Lionel Shriver is the author of The Post-Birthday World (3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2007) and the Orange Prize–winning We Need to Talk About Kevin (3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003).

The Story: Shep Knacker can almost taste freedom. The New York handyman has saved more than $700,000 for his retirement, and he plans to make the money last by living on the cheap on an island off the Tanzanian coast. Shep hardly cares if his wife, a metalworking artist, comes with him or not. But his dreams are dashed when Glynis announces that she has terminal cancer and that she desperately needs Shep's health insurance. Now, instead of enjoying the good life, Shep stresses over skyrocketing medical bills, a rapidly dwindling savings account, and the very real possibility of bankruptcy.
Harper. 448 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780061458583

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"So Much for That, as in ‘so much for the retirement dream, life has decided to intrude,' is nicely built. ... Ultimately, Shriver does what she has done well in the past; she raises thought-provoking questions that lack clear answers." Robin Vidimos

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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."Michiko Kakutani

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Shriver is a brilliant polemicist and while Shep and Jackson are clearly mouthpieces for the for-and-against arguments [about health care] raging in the US, Shriver has more than enough humour to pull these diatribes off. ... Wide-ranging, sometimes zany and unpredictable, this is a compelling read." Viv Groskop

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Neither stingy with subplots nor shy about taking on timely, complex issues, she tosses plenty of both into the pot with real daring and brio. ... There's nothing wrong with writing a newsworthy novel, but at times these prodigiously researched and exhaustively argued critiques [of health care] read more like excerpts from a position paper." Leah Hager Cohen

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]hough I struggled, irritated, through the endless passages of exposition as Jackson explained pretty much everything, I nonetheless could not wait to get back to this book night after night. ... I can't help but admire a book that is at once so worldly and all-embracing, nearly newsy in its perspective on issues ranging from the current health care debate to the business of law, and so intimate and moving on matters of the heart, body and soul." Ellen Akins

Critical Summary

Some critics were initially turned off at the thought of reading Shriver's latest offering because, really, how interesting can a novel about health care be? Rather than being pedantic or depressing, however, So Much for That is a thoughtful and powerful look at the effect our health policies have on middle-class Americans. It also raises the unsettling question about the worth, both financial and emotional, of a human life. While several critics thought the secondary storyline involving Shep's buddy Jackson was contrived and others felt that Shriver offered too much information on health care, most agreed that Shep and Glynis's story was "visceral and deeply affecting" (New York Times).