“So Much for That” by Lionel Shriver is a funny, poignant and informative novel that deals with the health-care woes of two families plodding through the nightmare of medical needs.
Shep Knacker, the protagonist, a solid guy, sells the company he spent years building – and to which he feels enslaved – for a million dollars, intending to fulfill his dream of a new life on the island of Zanzibar, off Tanzania. His wife, however, falls ill with a rare form of cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma, and, as their insurance is terribly inadequate, they must spend more and more of their own money on health care.
His best friend, Jackson, also a blue-collar worker, has always felt cheated by everything. His oldest daughter has a rare disease, too – familial dysautonomia – that keeps the whole family off-center. His health insurance, too, is so inadequate that Jackson’s wife has gone to work for IBM for decent medical coverage, though their daughter really needs her mother at home.
Jackson rants about the government, taxes, the moochers and the mugs and about everyone who takes advantage of people like him. His wife and Shep argue with him. And thus a very healthy dialogue about health care ensues throughout this novel. Every position is aired, every argument is heard; deductibles, cost-effectiveness, co-pays, out-of-network providers, lifetime payment caps with fascinating facts thrown about. For example, apparently during WWII there was a shortage of male labor and prices were frozen on wages so the only way a company could lure new workers was by offering health care. It did not cost much then, as many expensive tests and procedures did not yet exist. No one would have ever thought then that health care could become such a huge issue and financial burden later on.
Jackson’s rants and Shep’s observations make for some very humorous passages. This novel, despite all of its story’s medical complications, is heartwarming. Love is the only thing that lasts.