So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
This is my third Lionel Shriver, and I didn’t love it as much as the first two, because the secondary plot was a bit annoying and tiresome. Without it, the book may have garnered five stars and been a more satisfactory length as well.
Our hero has a dream, and has had it since he was 15: to work and save enough to finally move somewhere cheap enough to live out the rest of his life without having to work anymore. He marries someone allegedly simpatico, but who manages to find a reason to nix every destination that they explore as a possible retirement grounds. Having had enough delay, he decides at around age 50 to buy the tickets unilaterally and lay down the ultimatum that he is finally going, to Pemba, an island off the coast of Tanzania, very much hopefully with her, but with or without her. And she in turn lays down the bombshell that he can’t go, because she’s been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and she’s going to need his health insurance.
Shep loves his wife, and thus do his plans immediately invert. For the next year plus, it’s all about trying to keep Glynis alive and get her well. And each chapter begins with a statement of the balance of his life savings, which falls surely, immediately, and then precipitously, eventually to near nothing.
There’s a side plot about his friend. I won’t summarize that plot or any more of this one… What is wonderful about Lionel Shriver is that she writes about people like me and situations I know. Her characters are in my demographic. These live in Westchester. They have sometimes unspeakable feelings that I have too. Nobody really talks about the expense of end-of-life, and how that expense feels to those who have to undertake it, and how it feels to know you aren’t supposed to feel ANYTHING about money when someone’s life is at stake, even if the prognosis is hopeless.
Shep really does love his wife, but he’s not unfeeling about the fact that the means to fulfill his life’s dream is dribbling and then pouring away into her probably futile treatments; and the tragic fact is that he is destined to outlive her, and might still want to pursue his dream.
Oh, and then there’s his aging father and guilt-trip-laying sister. Yes, these books are really about people like me and situations I know.
It’s all very real and not something you usually read a novel about. And the ending is FANTASTIC.