It's such a good book, it works for the title of this blog post. So, yes, I finished So Much for That by Lionel Shriver--and I loved it. And I don't think you have to have had cancer or had someone close to you have cancer (although these days, doesn't that seem like everybody?) to love the book. If you like John Irving, you'll like this book (and if you don't...please don't ever tell me that or I simply cannot be your friend. Even virtually.) I'm not a book reviewer, so I'll cheat a little.
Here's the opening line of the book: "What do you pack for the rest of your life?" And really, that's what the book is about--what's really important and how we find that out for ourselves. But here's what the dust jacket copy says:
"Shep Knacker has long saved for "The Afterlife": an idyllic retreat to the Third World where hi nest egg can last forever. Traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be replaced with "talking, thinking, seeing, and being"--and enough sleep. When he sells his home repair business for a cool million dollars, his dream finally seems wihtin reach. Yet Glynis, his wife of twenty-six years, has concocted endless excuses why it's never the right time to go. Weary of working as a peon for the jerk who bought his company, Shep announces he's leaving for a Tanzanian island, with or without her.
Just returned from a doctor's appointment, Glynis has some news of her own: Shep can't go anywehre because she desperately needs his health insurance."
Right. she's been diagnosed with cancer. And there are three other medical subplots (ranging from a whip-smart child born with a genetic defect to a hilariously and then tragically botched plastic surgery) that "explores the human costs of American health care." It's just a brilliantly plotted and brilliantly written book. I saw way too much of myself in Shep Knacker at times, and then, yes, of course could relate to his wife (that whole cancer thing). This book made me wish I'd had more of an epiphany post-cancer.
And then there is Jane Green's "Promises to Keep." I probably liked this book more before I read So Much for That. Which is tragically unfair. Promises is, as you could guess from it's title, chick-lit. Unabashedly chick-lit. Nothing wrong with chick-lit, I'm just not much of a fan. Because I'm the kind of reader who can't (usually) get past an opening line like:
"Steffi elbows her hair out of her eyes before..." Yeah. That's where I stopped so I could figure out how one's elbow could touch one's hair. Steffi could have been double-jointed in some unusual way, but we don't know that yet (it's the opening line) so it's just odd phrasing. Yes, eventually I figured out that Steffi used her arm, with the middle section--the crook--on the other side of her elbow rubbing her forehead, to move her hair out of her way, but by then I'd also figured out I was not in the hands of a skilled writer. Skilled storyteller, perhaps, but writer, no. (In fairness to Ms. Green--I feel the same way about John Grisham and I'm sure they can both laugh their ways to the bank over my silly little opinion).
And then my other issue with Promises was how I came to read it. The publicist emailed me offering an advance reading copy. I was thrilled (I love to read; free books? oh yeah!). I'm assuming, because a character dies from breast cancer and how her family copes is the story, the publicist was reaching out to breast cancer bloggers. But the character dies. Dies. And she dies from a recurrence of the cancer in her brain, first noticed because she gets blinding headaches and then blacks out while driving. So what do you think I'm going to be thinking about when I get a headache now? Well, probably just for awhile, because basically I'm too lazy to panic, but still...I don't think I was ready to read a book like this. Also, the focus is really on how the family copes and, in the end, how every goes on with their pretty, glamorous, chick-litty lives after Callie dies. My friends and family don't have pretty, glamorous, chick-litty lives right now, so I'm pretty sure they didn't go back to them after my cancer scare was over (and it is over). Just not a lot for me to relate to in the book. It even includes recipes--ostensibly because Callie's sister, Steffi--the double-jointed one, is a chef. But that just emphasized the lack of skillfulness in the writing (and editing). One of the recipes says "Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie (or my lazy way of VERY, VERY slowly melting in a microwave." I can only assume the "my" in that sentence is actually the author herself as it makes no sense coming from Steffi--and we don't actually have any context for the recipe. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Author intrusion is generally an amateur mistake.
Having said all that, I did finish the book. Much like I finish an entire bag of potato chips--because it was there and there was something a little compelling about it. Of the two however, So Much for That is far and above my favorite. It's one I'll be forcing on people for years to come, I imagine.
Alrighty then, it's on to Europe!! We're in countdown mode. I'm ready to start packing! And no doubt the next post will be from France! If you want to follow along with lots of photos, find the group Words & Wine on Facebook. We'll be chronicling our journey there.