So Much For That – Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my all-time favourite books and although I was less impressed with The Post-Birthday World I still found it to be an enjoyable read. I was excited to discover that Lionel Shriver had a new book out and was lucky enough to win a proof copy of the book via a competition on Twitter.

So Much For That is a novel that takes a close look at the American healthcare system. The book follows Shep, a handyman from New York,  who sells his business for $1 million. He is looking forward to a comfortable retirement, preferably on a remote island off the cost of Tanzania. Unfortunately he discovers that his wife has cancer and so the plans are put to one side while she receives treatment. When the bills for her medical care start to appear Shep suddenly discovers that his retirement nest egg isn’t going to stretch very far.

Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of this book – it felt like one long rant about the state of the US healthcare system.

Thirty percent of the money spent on medical care in this country goes to so-called ‘administration.’ Fact is, there’s a wholly fatty layer of for-profit insurance companies larded between Glynis and her doctors, a bunch of bloodsucking greedy fucks making money off her being sick. Kick those assholes out of the picture, and for the same cost the whole country would be covered, without fifty different bills a week arriving in your mailbox.”

The book was packed with facts and figures about various clauses within the system and the way Shep just happened to have friends with different medical problems (perfect for showing other ways in which the healthcare system was failing)  just made me cringe – it was all so contrived.

The whole tone of the book felt depressing and defeatist and I struggled to make it to the end. Lionel Shriver makes a fantastic argument for reforming the US healthcare system, but I’m afraid that in the UK she will mainly be preaching to the converted. I’m sure this book will have much more relevance in America and probably cause some controversy, but as a UK reader I found discussing the small print of insurance policies very dull.

I look forward to seeing how this book is received in America, but I think readers outside the US will be disappointed.

Are you planning to read this book?

Have you read any of her earlier books?

50 replies on “So Much For That – Lionel Shriver”

Interestng – I didn’t know she had a book out this year -you were lucky to get a proof copy! Not sure this really appeals; I enjoyed We need to talk, and really liked Double fault (all about tennis – perfect Wimbledon season reading), but didn’t like Post Birthday.

Verity, I haven’t read Double Fault, but do own a copy. I’m not a big fan of tennis, so worry it won’t be for me. Perhaps I’ll try it during Wimbledon this year.

Nope, doesn’t appeal. I loved We Need to Talk About Kevin (after a slow start and almost putting it down unfinished) and had The Post-Birthday World out of the library at one point but didn’t read it. I will read her other earlier books at some point but in no rush. Lionel Shriver and Maggie O’Farrell are speaking together at an event in Foyle’s late next month to promote each of their new books.

Nope, won’t be heading to read this one.

One day I will try and finally restart and finish We Need To Talk About Kevin… maybe, though I am not sure any of Shriver’s other books appeal to me, so maybe she just isnt the author for me.

Yes – the UK already has the NHS. It could be better, but at least it’s easy enough to go to the doctor and get treatment. I would probably skip this one too, since I am also a convert. I still look forward to We Need to Talk about Kevin, which I luckily already own.

Meghan, I agree that the NHS has a lot of problems, but I do think it is better than the US system. I’d hate to read a whole book about NHS funding though!

Stephanie, The premise didn’t appeal to me either but I was willing to give it a try since I have loved her previous work. It is just a shame that it didn’t turn out differently.

This reminds me, I need to read We Need to Talk About Kevin. But I probably will be giving this one a miss. I read news articles every day about the health care debate, and I don’t need it to bleed into my leisure reading as well.

Jenny, It is interesting to know that you are suffering from over exposure to the healthcare debate – perhaps I was wrong and Americans won’t like it either?

The Reader, Lionel Shriver does an excellent job of arguing her corner in this book. I hope that people listen to her, but didn’t enjoy reading about it.

Sounds like it should have been a non-fiction book. I agree, as a Canadian, I have no desire to read a book about the failings of the American health care system.

Lahni, I agree. This book was almost a non-fiction book in terms of content. The story itself was pretty minimal and only seemed to be present as a way of getting all the facts across in a contived way. It should have been written as a non-fiction book.

Jackie, I think you might be right that this book may resonate more with U.S. readers (and have a lot more relevance). That said, although I don’t know that the subject has ever been tackled in a book before, it seems like something that has been beat to death in films like Sicko. I don’t mind when authors tackle political/social topics, but it sounds to me that the “fiction” element may have been somewhat lacking here. I don’t really like reading books that read more like propaganda/extended rants under the guise of fiction.

(And this is coming from a Canadian, who lives in the U.S. and is disgusted with the “health” “care” system here!)

Steph, I haven’t seen this subject in a book before either. I don’t mind a book which deals with this subject, but I felt it went too far in describing the situation, leaving me bored. I will be interested to see what others think of it though.

Aw, that is too bad. I was pretty excited just about the idea of Shriver having a new book. I don’t really think I am interested in hearing about how messed up our Healthcare system is. I already know, and I’m kinda sick of it. I still need to get to Kevin, which I have on my shelf.

I think the steady and deliberate movement towards privatization in health care systems that are seemingly more focussed on the public good (e.g. Canada’s) than some others (e.g. the U.S.’s) is altering the political terrain of this issues faster than many people realize (considering, for instance, the access to diagnostics and cancer treatments). It’s less obvious if you’re fairly well; excruciatingly apparent if you’re not.

So a relevant issue and one inherently rife with conflict and tension, which could make for great fiction: but, I agree, these kinds of issues are most powerful in fiction when they are immersed in story. I’m very keen to see how this works for Shriver, but a bit hesitant, yes, because her characters are often so unlikeable (so honest and revealing that it’s an uncomfortable reading sensation). I’d love to see how she does with it though: she’s a fascinating writer.

BuriedInPrint, I agree – it could have made a fantastic story, but I’m afraid that the plot was too basic and buried in fact. Her characters were realistic, but the depressing reality of it all meant that I didn’t gain any pleasure from reading it. Shame as she is a fantastic writer.

I’ll pass on this one – Like the cover though! I’m sure it will get lots of attention in the US. I liked Kevin though – one of those books that raises more questions than it answers.

Annabel, I love Kevin more and more each month. When I first finished it I could see a lot of faults, but I’ve forgotten them now and remember only the wonderful parts. I really should change my rating to 5 stars!

Well. What an apt title? I know I’m not interested in reading this. (altho, being married to a guy who had a ‘handyman’ business, I’m oh-so-curious how the protagonist was able to sell for so much.)
I did find We Need to Talk abt Kevin an amazing book. I haven’t tried anything else by Shriver.

Care, LOL! I hadn’t thought about the appropriate title before!

Perhaps you need to send an enquiry off to the author and she’ll let you know a good place to sell businesses for lots of money!

I have an ARC of this book, didn’t realize it was about healthcare. Hmm. It sounds like it is going to be a cross between interesting and obnoxious, but I agree it doesn’t seem like that would translate particularly well across the pond – or anywhere outside of America, really. It also seems like it could date the book very quickly, particularly if Obama does get something significant passed on healthcare anytime soon.

Jen, I hadn’t thought about the book dating quickly but you’re right – there is a danger that this book could become irrelevant very quickly. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

I am a huge fan of We Need To Talk About Kevin – I thought it was just brilliant – so I was really excited to know that Shriver had a new book coming out this year – sorry it was so disappointing for you Jackie. I work in the heathcare industy in Australia and we are having a debate about our nation’s healthcare system at the moment so I might find this book interesting from that perspective but it doesn’t sound like it is going to impact on me nearly as much as Kevin.

Karen, I can see why this book might interest you from a professional point of you, but as a piece of fiction I think you’ll be disappointed. I’d love to know your thoughts – I hope you decide to read it!

I am actually going to hear Lionel Shriver speak tonight here in Chicago. I’ll be interested to hear what she has to say about this book. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I’m curious to see how I feel being that I am an American, although I don’t really like to be preached to if that’s what it involves. When it comes out I will definitely be reading it. Thanks for your review!

I mentioned to you quite a while ago (on Twitter) that I also had an ARC of this novel and didn’t care for it at all, even though I loved WNtTAK. In fact, I liked SMFT less than PBW, which I didn’t love. It’s funny how you can enjoy one book so much and then not care for any of an author’s follow up books. The situation reminded me a little of HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY–I was looking for the strong writing and impact of TTW and it just wasn’t there for me. I have recently read a positive review of SO MUCH FOR THAT, but again, I could barely finish it.

Suejustbooks, I remember you being disappointed in this book. It is sad when you love another of their books so much. I did have a similar reaction to HFS but SMFT was much worse than that in my opinion. It is good to know that I’m not alone in my opinion of this one.

Funny, I tried to read We Need to Talk About Kevin and put it down (and let me tell you, I am very patient with books, usually reading 100 pages before giving up). I thought it was slow, and I was frustrated that it wasn’t going anywhere.

Anyhoo, nice to read your thoughts 🙂

Oh, and until you said “she,” I forgot that Lionel is a female. Unusual name, huh?

Sorry to see that this one didn’t work for ya. I haven’t read any of Shriver’s work, but it sounds like this one beats the reader over the head with the agenda, and I don’t care for that either.

I am very interested in this book – I follow the healthcare debate closely. But I wonder how the author will translate the debate into a story with characters and keep it from being dry.

I haven’t read anything by Shriver yet and from the sounds of it this may not be the best book to start with!

Thanks for the review.

Colleen, I felt the story was very contrived. All the characters seemed to be added just because they had some problem that needed treating by the health care system. I wouldn’t describe it as dry, but all emotion in the book was set up against a backdrop of how much each operation/procedure would cost and so I got very irritated with it.

I think her other books are much better and recommend starting with Kevin.

Hmm, books that have such a strong political agenda are tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to seem sneaky about it. On the other hand, if the politics take centre stage, it can be hard to get into the actual story.

Speaking of one hand and the other hand, The Other Hand did a good job of this, don’t you think?

Generally though, I like to get my politics and facts from magazines and websites, not from my fiction.

Lija, I loved The Other Hand! I think that it did a fantastic job of getting a message across, but that was mainly due to the emotion of the book. It wasn’t packed with statistics and small print in the way this was. I prefer to avoid politics in fiction too!

I’ve only read We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I liked it, although I also found it a disturbing book. This one I will not read. While this may sound like I’m an egomaniac, there are periods of my life where I just have enough to do dealing with my own problems, and right now I am not sure I can take a serious book about the American health care system and feel more than a passing “whats that got to do with me”. So thanks for “warning” me 😉

Darn! I was so excited to hear she had a new book coming out … but I can’t say this makes me want to read it very much. I really liked “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and “The Post-Birthday World” but this doesn’t sound nearly as creative.

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