Review Overview: Lionel Shriver's Health Care Novel

It just so happens to be insanely topical

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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 national temperament."
  • '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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