The backstory: So Much for That is a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Fiction.
The basics: When So Much for That came out in March, I remember hearing it was a novel about health insurance. And it is, but like most great novels, it's more about humanity. Shep has dreamed and saved since he was eighteen for the "After Life." Moved by a mission trip he took as a teen, he wanted to live in a poorer country on a few dollars a day. Each summer, he and his family take a research trip to a possible location. He's lived simply, paid for everything in advance and is ready to make the move when his wife is diagnosed with caner.
My thoughts: Although the novel is told in both the voice of Shep and his long-time best friend Jackson, it still felt like Shep's story to me. Perhaps it was because his story is the first one in the book or perhaps because it was simply more compelling to me. In some ways the novel was quite political, but Shriver deftly made all sides of the story understandable. It is a political novel, but it doesn't necessarily have its own agenda, which is refreshing. Although I was captured by the book's subject and characters from the beginning, it wasn't a book I truly loved until the end. So Much for That is a novel that takes the reader on a journey, and it was a journey I didn't expect. Shriver writes with patience and restraint, and this novel truly is bigger than the sum of its parts.
As I read it, I longed to discuss it with someone else. This book is ripe for discussion and would be ideal for book clubs.
The verdict: So Much for That is both timely and timeless. This novel may age in fascinating ways as the U.S. healthcare system changes, but it will remain a brilliantly nuanced character study that also examines contemporary public health policy and politics.
National Book Award thoughts: It's the first fiction finalist I've read this year, but I would celebrate its victory.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 448 pages
Publication date: March 1, 2010
Source: my local public library
Have you enjoyed other Lionel Shriver books? Which of her backlist should I read first?
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