Book Review: Useful by Debra Oswald
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I knew the general premise, that its main character, Sullivan, attempts to commit suicide in the opening chapter. He obviously fails, but when in hospital lamenting the fact he’s a waste of space, he gets an idea that he might become a useful member of society if he donates a kidney. It sounded like it could almost be too much of a forced plot line, too contrived maybe, but I’m here to happily report this wasn’t the case and I loved Useful.
Despite his shortcomings, I also loved Sullivan, and cheered him on even when his journey of redemption bounced him from misadventure to misadventure.
I didn’t only like Sullivan, however. Unlike some writers, Oswald has created a diverse and engaging cast of supporting characters. There’s Natalie and her rather dysfunctional family, Sully’s kidney transplant doctor and psychiatrist, Sully’s two besties and their partners, his new boss and his wife, his famous actor friend, his socially awkward neighbour, and his inherited dog. All of them add charm and/or tension, and are used for just the right amount of time by Oswald.
I found Oswald was also a deft hand with keeping the plot balanced and moving along. There was just the right amount of plot twists, romance, comedy, and poignancy. Thankfully nothing ever seemed cliched or read like a soap opera.
I thought the book quite clever on many levels too. Oswald’s writing and descriptions could be thought provoking, and I found the idea of Sullivan keeping himself on the straight and narrow because of his pending organ donation quite fascinating. I needed to keep reading to find out whether or not he would go through with it. I wavered between wishing he wouldn’t (after all it’s quite dangerous) and thinking how disappointed I’d be if he backed out. Plus, like many of the characters, I kept wondering just what would become of Sullivan when he no longer had such a huge goal to keep him sober and decent. Would he immediately return to his old bad habits? Would he try to again commit suicide?
Some of my questions were answered, some weren’t. Did this worry me? No, not really. I think there’s a lot implied with the ending. I highly recommend you read Useful to find out some of these outcomes for yourself too.
4 ½ out of 5.