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So Much for that by Lionel Shriver

(HarperCollins, $38.99)

American author Lionel Shriver is not a writer who shies away from hard topics. Her prize-winning 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin deals with a mother’s grief after her son commits a mass murder at a high school. The Post-Birthday World follows a book illustrator who examines what life would be like if she stayed with her long-term partner or ran off with someone new.**

Similarly, So ouch for That tackles the big subjects of cancer, marriage and the US health system. Protagonist Shep Knacker has spent his life saving for “The Afterlife” – an idyllic retirement somewhere in the Third World where his nest egg will last forever. For the past 26 years, his wife Glynis has concocted endless excuses as to why it was never the right time to go, so finally Shep makes the decision to leave – with or without her – only to find that Glynis has just returned from the doctor with some news of her own. She has cancer.

Glynis needs not only his health insurance, but also his nest egg to help cover the staggering bills for her treatment. Shep determinedly takes on a sense of duty, nursing his wife, preparing meals and filling out endless medical forms – all while watching his dream slip away.

Lionel really gets inside the mind of Shep, who continues to care for Glynis, despite her anger at him and at her disease. We develop an intimate understanding of Shep and see the struggle he faces as a decent man who will do anything to take care of his family.

Lionel sets up Shep’s story – and that of his best friend Jackson, whose  daughter is also at the mercy of the health system – to explore the state of care in the US and how regular people are affected by it. By focusing on how the smaller details of illness and mortality profoundly affect people, she is able to tackle this enormous, important issue and turn it into a deeply touching and very personal story.

This book will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

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