This is not a sugar-coated, “happy” novel by any means, as the title might imply. Shriver’s protagonist, Shep Knacker, has made it his goal to work hard and save enough money so that he can retire early and enjoy what he refers to as “the afterlife.” Having journeyed to Africa with his family as a young man, Shep came to realize that in some areas of the world it’s possible to live a happy and comfortable life on only a few dollars a day. This is the life he eventually wants to lead and he’s been planning for it for years.
The day comes when Shep has sold off his self-made business, he’s made up his mind that now is the time to start “the afterlife.” The problem is that shortly thereafter he learns that his wife of 26 years, Glynis, is suffering from mesothelioma. Shep can’t leave because Glynis needs his health insurance. Even with this small sense of security, the medical bills are overwhelming and Shep is forced to sacrifice his nest egg and his dream in his efforts to save his wife.
This novel tells the story of a marriage and the realities of life. We never have complete control over our futures. The descriptions of Glynis’s battle with cancer are intense and very real – the physical and emotional descriptions really got to me. Shriver doesn’t scrimp on the details and he makes you see just how hard it is when someone you love is suffering, and what love means when you become their primary caregiver. Shriver also has a very clear message about the American healthcare system – there’s no escaping that this is one of the novel’s primary focal points.
I don’t know if I’d say I “enjoyed” reading this book, but I found myself drawn into the story. Now to move on to some lighter fare…