If someone said to you “here’s a book about dying of cancer, genetic disorders, the American Health System and some crumbling relationships” you might just say “thanks, but no thanks”. But if they added that the book So Much For That was written by Lionel Shriver (whom it just so happens you have to interview), everything would change.
Shriver writes sentences that come at you like a train aiming at a standing car on a level crossing. There is no escape. Not one for feng shui sparseness, this is dense writing where Shriver plucks at will from her enormous vocabulary to render characters so annoyingly human your palms tingle to slap them.
Female readers will probably develop a crush on Shep (I know I did), male readers will never want to see the words “penis” and “enlargement” in the same sentence ever again and Glynis – the feisty, unreasonable Glynis (to borrow one of Polchatnik’s annoying tautologies)- just is who she is.
It is a measure of Shriver’s talent that you learn a whole lot about stuff you never wanted to know in the first place and yet you do not even once think of skipping a paragraph. There are wonderful insights throughout the book, one of my favourites is : “concept is incidental, execution is all”, which drove me to stop fantasising about where to put the spring bulbs and instead get up and actually plant them. Not only that, for the first time ever I read the little tag that tells you how deep in the ground they should go.
Be warned, this is not a book for the squeamish. Unlike other books on tending to dying friends or family, for example Elizabeth Berg’s Never Change, Shriver does not spare us even the most private indignities of it all. I wonder how this compares with other books on the topic of death and illness, I hope there are some readers out there who can share their expertise. In the case of So Much For That, there’s no refined turning of the gaze from what is ugly, painful, profoundly sad and very, very costly. The book’s title lays bare the financial implications and the hopelessness of it all in what must be the best title choice I have seen in a long long time, all thanks to Shriver’s husband Jeff.
Essentially this is a novel about love and sacrifice and after the freefall of this anxious read, Shriver finally relents and shoves a mattress under us. It’s not quite in the “make mine extra fluffy” league, but I was oh so grateful for it.