Lionel Shriver's new novel, a black comedy called So Much for That,
examines the financial and emotional wear that chronic illness can
place on a family. With health care reform dominating the news
Shriver's novel couldn't be more topical: as the hospital bills add up,
the characters must watch their dreams erode, as well as their mutual civility. Shriver, best known for her 2003 novel We Need to
Talk About Kevin, says the book's contemporary relevance is purely coincidental
, but critics haven't missed the obvious polemical streak.
- 'Barely Contained Fury' Writing in The New Republic, Ruth Franklin
applauds Shriver for keeping alive the "novel of ideas" as a form--the
novel "as a vehicle for exploring political, religious, or social
questions." For Franklin, So Much for That is a scorching work, one
that's not about the specific politics of health insurance reform so
much as it's about "fury only barely contained, fury at an American way
of life that is so broken and dysfunctional that it has become
impossible for people to conduct their lives in a decent, humane way."
- It's Supposed to Be a Novel, Right? The New York Times' Leah Hager Cohen
wishes Shriver had worked her policy points into the text a little more
organically, citing a scene where the "dialogue is salted with phrases
(expenditure cap, cost-effectiveness, generic ibuprofen) that seem more
suited to an editorial on the health care debate than to an intimate
exchange between mournful son and ailing paterfamilias." Cohen contends
that "there's nothing wrong with writing a newsworthy novel, but at
times these prodigiously researched and exhaustively argued critiques
read more like excerpts from a position paper."
- A Social Problem, Not a Political One In a Los Angeles Times review, Ella Taylor
looks to Shriver's biography for clues. "It's possible to read 'So Much
for That' as a critique of the American obsession with amelioration,"
Taylor suggests, "by an American who has lived much of her adult life
in Britain, a full-service welfare state underpinned by a fatalistic
- 'The Rare Novel That Will Shake and Change You' The Washington Post's Ron Charles
found the book marvelously effective in its unsparing description of
medical indignities. In a March 17 review, Charles writes that Shriver
"makes us consider the most existential questions of our lives and the
dreadful calculus of modern health care in this country. If the
senators so enamored of our current insurance industry conduct their
threatened filibuster, perhaps some strong-stomached Democrat should
counter by reading this story into the Congressional Record."
- Occasionally Preachy, But Well Worth the Read Ben Felsenberg,
writing for the British publication Metro, admits that "there are
clunking passages of didactic debate but you’re never more than a
paragraph or two from a line of fiendish acuity." Ultimately, he finds
the work "dazzlingly clever" and a "boldly honest depiction of the
struggle to reconcile three finite commodities: time, money and love."
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