A more timely story doesn’t exist. We are all dealing with aging parents, health-care issues, job angst, warring families, and struggling with relationships. Who hasn’t dreamt of just escaping from it all?
Sheperd Knacker sold his handyman business for a cool $1 million eight years ago when he was only forty years old. He’s been working for the new owner, who is a pompous ass. But he knows it’s just a matter of time before his wife Glynis decides to come with him and their teenage son and move to Pemba, an island off the coast of Africa. He’s been dreaming of what he calls “the Afterlife” all this time. When he has had enough, he buys three airline tickets to Pemba and tells Glynis suddenly that he is going with or without her. She calmly tells him that she will need his health insurance since she has cancer.
Lionel Shriver forges ahead and stabs the issue of health care with a pitch fork. Leaving no stone unturned, she takes us through the horrific bouts with chemotherapy and surgery, the side effects of the trial drugs, the effects on the psyche, and the ripping apart of the lives of the families involved.
At the top of each chapter, there is an ever-changing update to Shep’s financial account with Merrill Lynch. If you didn’t understand the financial toll being taken, this would be your barometer. It’s much about money: how much is a life worth?
While Shep and Glynis are dealing with this horror, their best friends Jackson and Carol are dealing with their own problems. They have two daughters. One was born with a life-threatening disease called familial dysautonomia or F.D.. Flicka is now a teenager and has myriad showdowns, breakdowns, and near death moments on a daily basis. This is an ugly disorder I had not heard of. Too think there are actually families out there dealing with this now is humbling. I love that Shriver has given this quirky character such spunk and made her really smart to boot. But you can only imagine what something like this would do to a marriage over the course of a lifetime.
The cost of Glynis’s care is debilitating, quickly diminishing their savings and completely eliminating the briefest dream of Pemba. And, Shep is the main care giver here. Shriver pacts punch after punch with her intricate views up close and personal of what cancer is. At times it is hard to read.
All these people are full of rage, each dealing with it in his or her own way. Rage at the health care system, at each other, at everything. This story will make you furious. It will change the way you think. Maybe, even change the way you live your life.
I know the book is long. Yes, it’s 400 pages. And even though it is harsh, it is also laugh out loud funny. It is a brilliant telling of a story that begs to be known. I loved it! As soon as I read the last page, I stood up as if to cheer. Yes, it is that good.
I don’t care what Lionel Shriver writes next; I will read it. I can’t wait.