Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2010
Length: 17 hours and 17 minutes
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Where I Got It: Audible
Why I Read It: I’ve really enjoyed other Lionel Shriver books, particularly The Post-Birthday World and We Need To Talk About Kevin
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Shep Knacker has spent most of his adult life preparing for “The Afterlife”—his shorthand for early retirement in a Third World country where his nest egg will last longer. Numerous research trips with his wife Glynis have narrowed down the options to an island off the coast of Africa. Yet Glynis always finds one reason or another to delay The Afterlife. Impatient to pull the trigger (after all, he sold his handyman company for $1 million a few years back and has been miserably slaving away for the asshat new owner since then), Shep decides he is ready to start enjoying The Afterlife NOW—even if that means going without Glynis and their teenage son Zack. With one-way tickets in hand, Shep girds himself to do battle with Glynis to convince her that he isn’t willing to wait any longer, that The Afterlife must begin now. However, it turns out that Glynis has news of her own—she’s been diagnosed with a rare but deadly form of cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma. What can a good husband do? Of course, Shep delays The Afterlife. Yet as the months tick by and the balance of his retirement account dwindles steadily due to mounting medical bills, Shep begins to realize that The Afterlife might never be in his grasp.
You just never know what you are going to get with a Lionel Shriver book. After thrilling to the parallel universes in The Post-Birthday World and feeling depressed and disturbed after her stunning We Need To Talk About Kevin, I signed up for her latest book without hesitation. I so wish I’d listened to the reviews I’d read beforehand that said that the book felt more like a diatribe against the U.S. health-care system than a novel as So Much For That was a bit of a slog.
Shep’s best friend, Jackson, takes on the role of pissed-off ranter—launching on these epic rants about Mooches and Mugs (his favorite term for all the corrupt asshats who are sticking it to us idiots). These rants quickly grew tiresome, and I felt that Shriver let Jackson run on way too long. In addition, I thought the ending was unrealistic and uncharacteristic of Shriver. I honestly couldn’t believe how she ended the book. If there was ever a book made for an unhappy ending, this was it. Yet Shriver turned everything on its head and gave these very unlikable characters an almost fairytale ending that just didn’t jibe with the rest of the book. (Well, except for Jackson.)
That being said, Shriver is still is darn good writer. Her focus on little details and her way with words made this book tolerable. However, her writing skills often created vivid and graphic scenes that were almost too much for me to handle. At one point, when Shriver described some bodily functions plaguing Glynis, I felt my stomach turning with nausea. In addition, a subplot with Jackson’s botched surgery contained one too many graphic descriptions that almost turned me off of intimate relations forever. Let’s just say this: you’ll never look at an “Enlarge Your Penis” spam e-mails the same way again.
In the end, this book felt more like Shriver communicating an agenda rather than writing a novel. Still, the lady (yes … Lionel Shriver is a woman … it threw me off the first time I read her books) can write and that saved this from being a complete turn-off … but just barely.
About the Narration
I thought Dan John Miller did an excellent job narrating what must have been a difficult and long read. His voice was gripping, and I didn’t mind spending more than 17 hours listening to him. In fact, his narration may have kept me in the book longer than if I had read it in print. (I definitely would have skipped over almost any Jackson rant in the print version.) In addition, Miller created different voices for each character, including Shep, Glynis, Jackson and Jackson’s disabled daughter Flicka. (I’ll confess, when I first heard his voice for Flicka, it was a real turn-off and almost seemed like a parody. Yet, as I listened, I grew accustomed to it and thought perhaps the voice brought the character to life in a way she might not have come to life in the print version.) It was amazing to me how Miller could morph into each character’s voices and I’d know immediately who was talking … even between Shep and Jackson.
People who have an axe to grind against Big Government, the health-care system, politicians and the “system” in general … you’ll find an ally in Jackson! I honestly don’t know that I’d recommend this book to anyone. It wasn’t an easy read/listen, the characters were often unlikeable, and the “plot” felt more like a chance for Shriver to communicate an agenda rather than craft a cohesive and gripping narrative. (I’m not saying I disagree with Shriver’s agenda and criticisms. I just felt she bludgeoned the reader with it.) Although Shriver can write, she has written better books than this one.
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