Book review: The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam

Thursday, September 1, 2016 Permalink

I suspect some may find the subject matter of The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam slightly confronting. After all, we still don’t talk a lot about euthanasia and assisted suicide. Although perhaps we should.

Book review: The Easy Way Out by Steven AmsterdamThe Easy Way Out
by Steven Amsterdam
Published by Hachette Australia
on August 30th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 9780733636271
Pages: 272

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.

We meet Evan on the day of his first ‘assist’. He’s been working on the program since Measure 961 was introduced – though his previous role primarily involved the psychiatric assessment of potential clients and logistical arrangements. It seems a natural progression then that he move into a newly vacant position of an assistant… liaising with the patient and their loved ones, and… ultimately passing the patient a cup of Nembutal when the time comes.

His boss Nettie trusts Evan, but there’s something that seemingly makes her nervous. He cares too much, she suggests. He identifies too much with the patients and their families, she suggests.

And Evan has his reasons. His elderly mother – the belligerent and prickly Viv – has Parkinson’s and Evan moved into her house when she moved into a nursing home. Viv knows what Evan does for a living (though others don’t); and she believes he’ll do the right thing by her when the time comes.

He’s in a relationship of sorts with Lon (a psychologist at his mother’s nursing home) and Lon’s partner Simon. The fact Evan is gay didn’t bother me of course, but I found it interesting that he’s more comfortable in relationships with couples… seemingly not being interesting in a relationship with one significant other.

We learn about Evan’s childhood and Viv’s style of parenting – a hands-off approach if you like. Their relationship is awkward. They’re not close, but brutally honest with each other… perhaps in the way an only child and single parent are fated to be.

The plot of this novel unfolds slowly. We meet a number of Evan’s clients and follow Viv’s progression as she undergoes treatment. But this book is very much about Evan’s journey. He supports the notion of euthanasia and is consciously cautious of protocols around the new legislation, but he’s got a kind and fragile heart and soon finds himself crossing some boundaries he didn’t expect to be problems.

In all honesty I’m someone who’s pretty liberal when it comes to making decisions about our own bodies. Although I still would much prefer to be cryogenically frozen until my ailments can be mended and I can live forever… I watched my own father waste away in palliative care for a number of weeks. It’s something I’ll never forget. Assisted suicide or euthanasia is a sensitive topic and one Amsterdam handles with compassion, respect and with humour.

I enjoyed this engaging outing from Amsterdam – my first with the palliative care nurse, who most certainly knows his stuff.

The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam was published in Australia on 3o August 2016 by Hachette.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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