Friday, October 22, 2010

book review: So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

So Much for That: A NovelThe 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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11 comments:

  1. I loved We Need to Talk About Kevin and have been meaning to read more by Shriver. She picks such fascinating topic that beg to be discussed. This one sounds great!

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  2. Glad to hear you liked this one--I definitely want to read more by Shriver after reading We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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  3. I have always been quite fasinated by this book and the subject matter ever since I saw Shriver in an interview on TV here (UK) talking about it. She was not saying nice things about your heathcare service thats for sure. I have We need to Talk about Kevin so I was going to read that one first.

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  4. This one does sound really good and like a great discussion piece! Thanks for the review... I need to keep this one in mind!

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  5. I thought We Need to Talk About Kevin was a powerful book but I was disappointed in The Post-Birthday World. I have So Much for That - maybe it'll be the tie breaker. I am interested in the subject matter.

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  6. I actually haven't heard much about this book, so it was nice to read your review and see what I had been missing. It does sound like it's a really good read, and I might not have given it much thought without having read your thoughts on it. Thanks for piquing my interest in this book!

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  7. I've only read two of her novels but I'm convinced that I'd want to discuss anything she writes. She really gets me thinking about relationships (of all sorts) in different ways, so even if I don't want to talk about the actual writing, I still want to discuss the story.

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  8. I've heard so much about Lionel Shriver's books. I really need to pick one and read. This one, as usual, sounds amazing!

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  9. Loved this one too. You and I have very similar taste!! I will read anything by Shriver or Sittenfeld. (Though I didn't love Man of my Dreams).

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  10. I've only read The Post Birthday World by Shriver - this one has been on my list. Thanks for the review!

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  11. Hey! I've read all of her stuff. I highly recommend We Need to Talk About Kevin and Post-Birthday, plus Checker and the Derailleurs, an early novel.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!