Monday, June 3, 2013

Elephant in the Room

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a very moving book.  Will starts off as a high powered partner in a London financial firm, with a beautiful girlfriend and all the money he could want.  Unfortunately, he is injured in a motorcycle accident, and becomes quadriplegic.  Will cannot align his new self, who can only move his neck, face and one hand, with his old self, who as he says, had a very big life.  Even though his parents are wealthy, and are able to provide him with a motorized wheelchair, a handi-capable annex to their house, and a medical caregiver, he is not sure that life is worth living. 

In desperation, Will's mother, Camilla, decides to hire another caregiver to stay with Will full time.  The qualifications for this role are a little sketchy, and Louisa, who has never worked in home health care before, is surprised to get the job.  Camilla seems to feel that it is more important that Will be with someone who is chatty and optimistic than with someone who actually knows what to do.  Louisa needs the job, and accepts it with great hesitation, because she knows that she is not qualified.

Will and Louisa get off to a bumpy start, with neither of them sure what to say to the other.  Slowly, they work out a routine, and become comfortable with each other.  But then Louisa notices the elephant in the room.

In this case, that elephant is named "physician assisted suicide."  Moyes does a great job of showing this issue from all of its sides, and yes, there are more than two.  When I was a new attorney, I was at the Oakland County Courthouse during the Jack Kevorkian (aka Dr. Death) murder trial.  Kevorkian felt that people who were not able to commit suicide on their own, due to a physical inability to do so, should still have the right to die on their own terms and by their own hand, if they wanted to.  He equipped a special van, which if I remember correctly, the media called "The Death Mobile".  He would allow people to kill themselves in the van, after he hooked them up to his suicide machine.  Michigan quickly took away Kevorkian's medical license, and passed a law against assisting another person in killing himself.  Kevorkian didn't stop, and soon was charged with murder.

When I got to the courthouse (probably to file some completely unrelated probate paperwork), there were hundreds of people in wheelchairs there, holding signs.  As I hurried past them, a couple of the signs began to catch my eye, and I realized that these people were there not to support Kevorkian, but to support the prosecutor.  They wanted people to know that while they were disabled, and may even "qualify" for Kevorkian's services, they had lives that were worth living.  The extremists among them may have even felt that if the court decided that what Kevorkian was doing was right, their lives might be in danger, with public pressure to end it all.

Every character in Me Before You has an opinion about physician assisted suicide, but as the story goes on, most of those opinions begin to change.  Louisa tries to show Will all of the opportunities for a full life that are available to him.  At the same time, Will tries to convince Louisa that there is more to life than their small town, and the limited  prospects available there.

I listened to Me Before You in audio form, and wondered why there were so many people in the cast.  There was one main reader, who did the voice of Louisa, but also did the voices of the other characters that Louisa came into contact with.  But then, several of the other characters had chapters of their own, and different actors did the voices in those chapters.  What I found strange, was that Will didn't have his own chapter after the accident, even though he, more than anyone else, fought to have his voice heard.  Obviously, this was deliberate.

As I mentioned last week, all of the reviews that I read about this book mentioned how much the reader cried.  One would think that the novel was sponsored by Kleenex.  Call me heartless, but while I liked the story, I didn't cry.  There was one point where I was just on the verge of tears in my daughter's school parking lot, but then my daughter jumped into the car, plugged in her ipod, and Taylor Swift took over the airwaves.  It's surprisingly hard to cry when listening to Taylor Swift sing about crying.

Next up on CD:  The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy.  DREADING this one.  Hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Still Reading:  Sisterland by Curtis Settenfeld

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in Macomb County and remember that trial very, very well.

    While I enjoyed this book overall, I couldn't help feeling like part of the author's goal was to collect as many tears as possible. Like you said, sponsored by Kleenex - WIPE THOSE TEARS. I felt more manipulated than emotional in the end.


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