Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'So Much For That,' is so much of a great novel

PEMBA, Zanzibar, Africa - Lionel Shriver's novel So Much For That hits just about every high and low note I can bear to read.

Lionel Shriver
There's absolute joy, horror, family dysfunction, employment bullying, death, life, taxes - and a very healthy whack at health care - and health insurance - in the United States.

And in the paragraph above, I left out a lot.

The book is the tale of a fellow named Shepherd Armstrong Knacker who has sold a business (think Home Depot, but on a local scale). He has a dream and that dream is about his having a life on Pemba, an island that is part of the Zanzibar archipelago.

But there are problems, of course, with getting to that dream from New York City (where Shep lives with his wife Glynis). Shep has a job, friends, children, an aging father, a sister (who believes she is an artist) and, eventually, there is an illness.

In all of So Much For That, Shriver shows great cleverness as a novelist and uses a device I have rarely seen, but which works fabulously. At several points, she will have a character suddenly dealing with an issue, but without stating directly what that issue is. It will be many pages later when the reader discovers what the character has actually had to contend with.

It makes sense and works out, somehow. She has a magic style in her writing.

Another novel device that hits the reader from the first page are the chapter subheadings - nineteen in all - like this:

Shepherd Armstrong Knacker
Merrill Lynch Account Number 934-23F917
Dec. 1, 2004 - Dec. 31, 2004
Net Portfolio Value: $731,778.56

You can guess that the bottom number changes frequently. But how it changes, and what it means to the story makes for a compelling tale.

So Much For That, despite dark overtones, is not a dark book. It's real life with twists that suggest tears and laughter, frequently simultaneously.

If you read it, you will likely weep and laugh, too, of course - right through the last page - where the final two sentences wrap it up as nicely as any novel I have ever read.

And, no, you will not be reading those sentences here.

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