When I heard Will Schwalbe interviewed about this book on CBC radio, I scribbled down the title and decided that I must read it. He and his mother decide to be a book club of two and spend her final months of cancer treatment reading and discussing their selections. Books were an important part of my relationship with my mother and I could relate to that. In fact, for me, when my mother was killed, I quit reading entirely for a while. Then there were long years of reading predominately non-fiction. I couldn’t face fiction without her to discuss it with.
So I was a little envious of his ability to spend a concentrated amount of time sharing this activity with his mother. They could see the end coming and managed to talk about so many meaningful issues through book discussions. I’m sorry he wasn’t with her when she died—I missed my mother’s death, too, but I was with my Dad a few weeks later, and it was a moving and powerful experience.
My book club agreed to add this book to our roster and we’ll discuss it tonight. Two months ago, we read So Much for That by Lionel Shriver. One member of the club has already asked for no more cancer books—we decided that next year will be the year of reading fluff, so hopefully the deadly illness books are in the rear view mirror now.
The contrast between the financial situations in the Schwalbe family versus the fictional Knackers (in SMfT) was striking. The haves and the have-lesses. There was never any question of whether Mary Ann Schwalbe would get her cancer treatments—plus she could afford regular trips to Florida and Geneva to visit friends and family, not to mention paying for the treatment of someone that she meets in line at the hospital. The Knackers are financially tapped out by Glynis’ cancer treatments—solvency is only regained by playing the system and running away to Africa.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who currently hates their career, either. Will, who works for a publishing house at the beginning, is able to just quit his job and his life just goes on, apparently. Very few of us have that option and it’s hard not to be just a teeny weeny bit jealous of his situation. Even during the economic downturn of 2008, the Schwalbe family are very comfortable. To Will’s credit, he does seem to involve himself in some other gainful adventures, but he also seems to have plenty of time to spend with his mother during her final months.
I enjoyed End of Your Life more that So Much for That—perhaps because Mary Ann’s treatment and death were so much less wrenching. She and her family had plenty of time to come to terms with the situation and had the buffer of cash to make things nice. Unlike Glynis Knacker, Mary Ann wants to spend time with the various circles of people in her life and doesn’t display much anger about her situation. Both books do make me appreciate the Canadian health care system, where all of us get treatment closer to Mary Ann’s.
I would recommend both books, although with caveats—don’t read SMfT without being prepared for its critique of the American health system and don’t read TEoYLBC if you have problems with well-off privileged folk.