Before I kick off, I should probably mention that WordPress kindly reminded me that it was my four-year blogiversary a few days ago, so have a celebratory snack on me, if you like.
Today’s book is one that will inspire conversation, get your little grey cells pumping and place you in an ethical conundrum from which there may be no return. It’s also an enjoyable read. I speak of The Easy Way Out by Stephen Amsterdam, which we received from Hachette Australia for review. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
If you could help someone in pain, would you?
Evan is a nurse, a suicide assistant. His job is legal . . . just. He’s the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it.
Evan’s friends don’t know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn’t know what he’s up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.
As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against legality, his own morality and the best intentions of those closest to him, discovering that his own path will be neither quick nor painless.
He knows what he has to do.
In this powerful novel, award-winning author Steven Amsterdam challenges readers to face the most taboo and heartbreaking of dilemmas. Would you help someone end their life?
Read it if:
* you think George R. R. Martin got it right and prefer a book where nearly everyone dies by the end
*you suspect you’ve got the right sort of temperament, character and belief system to fill the role of a nurse in the assisted-dying unit
*you’re looking for a book that the people in your book club will actually read – instead of pretend to read
*you like books about big issues that don’t rely on preachiness or shock tactics to present their message
This isn’t the first novel featuring assisted dying (or euthanasia or suicide or whatever you want to call it) I’ve read, but Amsterdam impressed me here with the subtle way in which the topic has been approached. That might seem like an odd statement to make – a book that plainly states that it’s about assisted dying might hardly be deemed to be “subtle” – but Amsterdam has done a brilliant job of laying out many of the complexities, be they legal, ethical or practical, that surround the idea of assisted dying and allowing the reader to absorb these without steering the discourse in a particular direction.
Without making it obvious, the author has included all types of end-of-life choices throughout the novel, including suicide of the conventional type (if we can call it that), the “pre-planned” type of assisted dying that features a clear end-of-life directive, the “look the other way” sort of medically assisted dying that goes on in hospitals all the time for those who are terminally ill and in pain, and the “legally sanctioned” assisted dying of which Evan’s job is a key part. Simply by including a wide range of characters whose deaths impact on the story, Amsterdam has neatly thrown out the question to both advocates and those opposing an individual’s right to choose their death as to how this concept can be managed realistically.
If you’re the sort of person who has strong views on whether or not an individual should have the right to choose the manner and time of their death, this book is going to provide plenty of fodder for your thought-processes. Should a mentally ill or socially isolated person have the same access to end-of-life processes as a terminally ill person, for instance? Should a family’s objections to an end-of-life choice have a bearing on the access to assisted death of the person choosing to die? What should happen if the person has made a clear choice but is physically unable to carry it out by the time the legal processes are finalised? I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’m glad that this book has raised these questions (and more!) for pondering.
I should also point out the ending is satisfyingly ambiguous also, which is a clever touch.
Apart from being an “issues” book, The Easy Way Out is also an absorbing and highly readable novel. Depending on how deeply you want to engage with the ethical content of the story, the book could certainly be read as a sort of grown-up “coming of age” novel that just happens to feature a main character in a highly unusual job. Evan, the protagonist, does an awful lot of growing and soul-searching throughout the novel as things he thought were clear in his mind become muddied by one life experience or another. His relationships, family history and work environment all force him to re-evaluate things he thought were obvious, and as his situation changes, so too does his ability to be sure of his decisions. I particularly liked the authenticity of Evan as a character and the fact that he sits in that hazy position in which most of us have found ourselves at one time or another – that of being completely sure of something until we aren’t – and the absolute upheaval that this can cause on a personal level.
If you’re looking for a reasonably quick read that also provides some food for thought and a cast of fascinating characters, I’d definitely recommend taking The Easy Way Out…off the shelf and giving it a go.
Until next time,