Worth reading: Living with death
Lionel Shriver is a national book award finalist in fiction this year for her book, “So Much For That” (HarperCollins, 2010). Shriver tackles the question “How much is a life worth?” via protagonist Shep Knacker, a middle-class, middle-aged man whose wife is diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Subtlety is not Shriver’s strong suit, but her honest, no-holds-barred descriptions of the end of life are bracing when compared to the glossy, glamorized version of “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Warning: don’t read if you are not prepared to look dying in the face. The story goes something like this:
Knacker dreams of retiring early in some tropical isle where the cost of living is minimal, but the beach and ideal weather will make up for any urban delights. Many of us have a similar pipe dream of escaping the humdrum working life to that place we call paradise. Declared at the top of each chapter is Knacker’s Merrill Lynch account value, ever shrinking as his wife’s illness, even with health insurance, eats away his life savings. This is fiction; but it’s so real, the reader needs to take breaks – short breaks, because you will want to return to the story you care about and its characters who will be like close friends.
Despite all the depressing themes Shriver comes to grips with – such as old age, medical incompetence, chronic illness in youth, an unsympathetic society, stressful familial and workplace relations – the author keeps a light shining brightly throughout.
This is Shriver’s ninth novel. Her last, “The Post-Birthday World,” was a New York Times best-seller.