Shep Knacker has been planning his 'Afterlife' for a very long time. Ever since he was taken to Africa as a kid and realized that you can live on a couple of dollars a day, Shep made a plan to return in his adulthood and settle down. Shep sells his company and house in preparation but has to keep putting off his trip. When he finally purchases the tickets and gives the ultimatum to his wife Glynis, she can either come or stay behind, Glynis tells him she has cancer. This forces Shep to put the Afterlife on hold again, possibly forever, because Glynis needs him, his money, and his limited health insurance to live.
Shep notices that his friends start to withdraw, including his best friend Jackson. Jackson has troubles of his own though, which occupies a side story in this novel. With a child that has a rare genetic disease and a bad decision about plastic surgery, the normally vivacious Jackson starts to turn inward. Shep has to deal with this, a mooch of a sister, the failing health of his father, a kid that won't ever leave his room, and a quickly depleting bank account.
Shriver is a master character writer. Just like We Need to Talk About Kevin, each character in this novel has a major flaw. Sometimes those flaws are unforgivable and not many of the characters are sympathetic. As risky as this is, Shriver still manages to draw the reader in and keep you turning the pages quickly. Each time Beryl, the mooching sister to Shep, appeared I just wanted to reach through the pages in smack her. Even Glynis' frigid attitude made me uncomfortable.
The characters give interesting commentaries on government and specifics such as health care. What is the cost of a human life? Is there ever a right time to give up the fight against cancer and just enjoy life? The questions posed are direct and the answers are more honest than most of us ever get about these subjects. Shriver does a great job and I'm looking forward to her next work!
First Line: "What do you pack for the rest of your life?"